A system for generating polarization mode dispersion is developed to reproduce a close approximation to the polarization mode dispersion (PMD) of fiber links in the laboratory. A multistage system of rotating wave plates and combinations of birefringent elements generates a mixture of first-order, second-order, and higher order PMD suitable for testing OC-192 and OC-768 hardware. The PMD emulator can be operated in either static or time-varying modes. In the static mode, first-order PMD is generated with the differential group delay (DGD) continuously adjustable from 0 to 160 ps. In the dynamic mode, time-varying PMD containing first and higher orders is generated with an approximately Maxwellian DGD distribution. The PMD emulator generates PMD variations at adjustable frequencies up to 400 Hz. © 2002 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.