losses of optical fiber


Ideally, optical signals coupled between fiber optic components are transmitted with no loss of light. However, there is always some type of imperfection present at fiber optic connections that causes some loss of light. It is the amount of optical power lost at fiber optic connections that is a concern of system designers.

The design of fiber optic systems depends on how much light is launched into an optical fiber from an optical source and how much light is coupled between fiber optic components, such as from one fiber to another. The amount of power launched from a source into a fiber depends on the optical properties of both the source and the fiber. The amount of optical power launched into an optical fiber depends on the radiance of the optical source. An optical source's radiance, or brightness, is a measure of its optical power launching capability. Radiance is the amount of optical power emitted in a specific direction per unit time by a unit area of emitting surface. For most types of optical sources, only a fraction of the power emitted by the source is launched into the optical fiber.

The loss in optical power through a connection is defined similarly to that of signal attenuation through a fiber. Optical loss is also a log relationship. The loss in optical power through a connection is defined as:

For example, Po is the power emitted from the source fiber in a fiber-to-fiber connection. Pi is the power accepted by the connected fiber. In any fiber optic connection, P o and Pi are the optical power levels measured before and after the joint, respectively.

Fiber-to-fiber connection loss is affected by intrinsic and extrinsic coupling losses. Intrinsic coupling losses are caused by inherent fiber characteristics. Extrinsic coupling losses are caused by jointing techniques. Fiber-to-fiber connection loss is increased by the following sources of intrinsic and extrinsic coupling loss:

    • Reflection losses
    • Fiber separation
    • Lateral misalignment
    • Angular misalignment
    • Core and cladding diameter mismatch
    • Numerical aperture (NA) mismatch
    • Refractive index profile difference
    • Poor fiber end preparation

Intrinsic coupling losses are limited by reducing fiber mismatches between the connected fibers. This is done by procuring only fibers that meet stringent geometrical and optical specifications. Extrinsic coupling losses are limited by following proper connection procedures.

Some fiber optic components are modular devices that are designed to reduce coupling losses between components. Modular components can be easily inserted or removed from any system. For example, fiber optic transmitters and receivers are modular components. Fiber optic transmitters and receivers are devices that are generally manufactured with fiber pigtails or fiber optic connectors as shown in figure 4-1. A fiber pigtail is a short length of optical fiber (usually 1 meter or less) permanently fixed to the optical source or detector. Manufacturers supply transmitters and receivers with pigtails and connectors because fiber coupling to sources and detectors must be completed during fabrication. Reduced coupling loss results when source-to-fiber and fiber-to-detector coupling is done in a controlled manufacturing environment. Since optical sources and detectors are pigtailed or connectorized, launching optical power is reduced to coupling light from one fiber to another. In fact, most fiber optic connections can be considered fiber-to-fiber.

Figure 4-1. - Pigtailed and connectorized fiber optic devices. 



When optical fibers are connected, optical power may be reflected back into the source fiber. Light that is reflected back into the source fiber is lost. This reflection loss, called Fresnel reflection, occurs at every fiber interface. Fresnel reflection is caused by a step change in the refractive index that occurs at the fiber joint. In most cases, the step change in refractive index is caused by the ends of each fiber being separated by a small gap. This small gap is usually an air gap. In Fresnel reflection, a small portion of the incident light is reflected back into the source fiber at the fiber interface. The ratio (R), shown below, approximates the portion of incident light (light of normal incidence) that is reflected back into the source fiber.

R is the fraction of the incident light reflected at the fiber n1 is the refractive index of the fiber core. n0 is the refractive index of the medium between the two fibers.

Fresnel refraction occurs twice in a fiber-to-fiber connection.

A portion of the optical power is reflected when the light first exits the source fiber. Light is then reflected as the optical signal enters the receiving fiber. Fresnel reflection at each interface must be taken into account when calculating the total fiber-to-fiber coupling loss. Loss from Fresnel reflection may be significant. To reduce the amount of loss from Fresnel reflection, the air gap can be filled with an index matching gel. The refractive index of the index matching gel should match the refractive index of the fiber core. Index matching gel reduces the step change in the refractive index at the fiber interface, reducing Fresnel reflection.

In any system, index matching gels can be used to eliminate or reduce Fresnel reflection. The choice of index matching gels is important. Fiber-to-fiber connections are designed to be permanent and require no maintenance. Over the lifetime of the fiber connection, the index matching material must meet specific optical and mechanical requirements. Index matching gels should remain transparent. They should also resist flowing or dripping by remaining viscous. Some index matching gels darken over time while others settle or leak out of fiber connections. If these requirements are not met, then the fiber-to-fiber connection loss will increase over time. In Navy applications, this variation in connection loss over time is unacceptable. In Navy systems, index matching gels are only used in fiber optic splice interfaces.

Q.5 In fiber-to-fiber connections, Fresnel reflection is one source of coupling losses. Light is reflected back into the source fiber and is lost. What causes Fresnel reflection?
Q.6 Reduction of Fresnel reflection is possible by reducing the step change in the refractive index at the fiber interface. What material reduces the step change in refractive index at a fiber interface?


A main source of extrinsic coupling loss in fiber-to-fiber connections is poor fiber alignment. The three basic coupling errors that occur during fiber alignment are fiber separation (longitudinal misalignment), lateral misalignment, and angular misalignment. Most alignment errors are the result of mechanical imperfections introduced by fiber jointing techniques. However, alignment errors do result from installers not following proper connection procedures.

With fiber separation, a small gap remains between fiber-end faces after completing the fiber connection. Figure 4-2 illustrates this separation of the fiber-end faces.

Figure 4-2. - Fiber separation. 

Lateral, or axial, misalignment



Figure 4-3. - Lateral misalignment. 

Angular misalignment

occurs when the axes of two connected fibers are no longer parallel. The axes of each fiber intersect at some angle (Θ). Figure 4-4 illustrates the angular misalignment between the core axes.

Figure 4-4. - Angular misalignment. 

Coupling loss caused by lateral and angular misalignment typically is greater than the loss caused by fiber separation. Loss, caused by fiber separation, is less critical because of the relative ease in limiting the distance of fiber separation. However, in some cases, fiber optic connectors prevent fibers from actual contact. These fiber optic connectors separate the fibers by a small gap. This gap eliminates damage to fiber-end faces during connection. For connectors with an air gap, the use of index matching gel reduces the coupling loss.

Most newer connectors are designed so that the connector ferrule end faces contact when the connector is mated. The connector can be assembled onto the fiber so that the fibers also contact when mated. However, they also can be assembled so that the fibers do not. Whether or not the fibers contact is determined by whether the fiber sticks out slightly from the ferrule or is recessed inside the ferrule. The fiber position can be controlled by the connector polishing technique. The physical contact (PC) polish technique was developed for most connectors so that the fibers would touch when mated. In these types of connectors, index gel is not needed to reduce reflections.

While index matching gel reduces coupling loss from fiber separation, it does not affect loss in lateral misalignment. Additionally, index matching gel usually increases the fiber's coupling loss sensitivity to angular misalignment. Although angular misalignment involves fiber separation, index matching gel reduces the angle at which light is launched from the source fiber. Index matching gel causes less light to be coupled into the receiving fiber. To reduce coupling loss from angular misalignment, the angle Θ should be less than 1°.

Coupling losses due to fiber alignment depend on fiber type, core diameter, and the distribution of optical power among propagating modes. Fibers with large NAs reduce loss from angular misalignment and increase loss from fiber separation. Single mode fibers are more sensitive to alignment errors than multimode fibers because of their small core size. However, alignment errors in multimode fiber connections may disturb the distribution of optical power in the propagating modes, increasing coupling loss.


In fiber-to-fiber connections, a source of extrinsic coupling loss is poor fiber end preparation. An optical fiber-end face must be flat, smooth, and perpendicular to the fiber's axis to ensure proper fiber connection. Light is reflected or scattered at the connection interface unless the connecting fiber end faces are properly prepared.

Fiber-end preparation begins by removing the fiber buffer and coating material from the end of the optical fiber. Removal of these materials involves the use of mechanical strippers or chemical solvents. When using chemical solvents, the removal process must be performed in a well-ventilated area. For this reason mechanical strippers are used for buffer and coating removal in the shipboard environment. After removing the buffer and coating material, the surface of the bare fiber is wiped clean using a wiping tissue. The wiping tissue must be wet with isopropyl alcohol before wiping.

The next step in fiber-end preparation involves cleaving the fiber end to produce a smooth, flat fiber-end face. The score-and-break, or scribe-and-break, method is the basic fiber cleaving technique for preparing optical fibers for coupling. The score-and-break method consists of lightly scoring (nicking) the outer surface of the optical fiber and then placing it under tension until it breaks. A heavy metal or diamond blade is used to score the fiber. Once the scoring process is complete, fiber tension is increased until the fiber breaks. The fiber is placed under tension either by pulling on the fiber or by bending the fiber over a curved surface.

Figure 4-6 shows the setup for the score-and-break procedure for fiber cleaving. Under constant tension, the score-and-break method for cleaving fibers produces a quality fiber end. This fiber end is good enough to use for some splicing techniques. However, additional fiber-end preparation is necessary to produce reliable low-loss connections when using fiber optic connectors.

Figure 4-6. - Score-and-break procedure for fiber cleaving. 


the fiber ends removes most surface imperfections introduced by the fiber cleaving process. Fiber polishing begins by inserting the cleaved fiber into the ferrule of a connector assembly. A ferrule is a fixture, generally a rigid tube, used to hold the stripped end of an optical fiber in a fiber optic connector. An individual fiber is epoxied within the ferrule. The connector with the optical fiber cemented within the ferrule can then be mounted into a special polishing tool for polishing.

Figure 4-7 shows one type of fiber polishing tool for finishing optical fibers in a connector assembly. Various types of connector assemblies are discussed later in this chapter. In this type of polishing tool, the connector assembly is threaded onto the polishing tool. The connector ferrule passes through the center of the tool allowing the fiber-end face to extend below the tool's circular, flat bottom. The optical fiber is now ready for polishing.

Figure 4-7. - Fiber polishing tool. 

Fiber polishing involves a step-down approach. The first step is to give the surface of the fiber end a rough polish. Rough-polishing occurs when the fiber, mounted to the polishing tool, moves over a 5μ to 15μ grit abrasive paper. The mounted fiber moves over the abrasive paper in a figure-eight motion. The next step involves giving the surface of the fiber end a fine polish. Fine-polishing occurs when the mounted fiber moves over a 0.3μ to 1μ grit abrasive paper in the same figure-eight motion. Fiber inspection and cleanliness are important during each step of fiber polishing. Fiber inspection is done visually by the use of a standard microscope at 200 to 400 times magnification.

A standard microscope can be used to determine if the fiber-end face is flat, concave, or convex. If different parts of the fiber-end face have different focus points, the end face is not flat. If all parts of the fiber-end face are in focus at the same time, the end face is flat.


Fiber mismatches

are a source of intrinsic coupling loss. As stated before, intrinsic coupling loss results from differences (mismatches) in the inherent fiber characteristics of the two connecting fibers. Fiber mismatches occur when manufacturers fail to maintain optical or structural (geometrical) tolerances during fiber fabrication.

Fiber mismatches are the result of inherent fiber characteristics and are independent of the fiber jointing techniques. Types of fiber mismatches include fiber geometry mismatches, NA mismatch, and refractive index profile difference. Fiber geometry mismatches include core diameter, cladding diameter, core ellipticity, and core-cladding concentricity differences. Figure 4-8 illustrates each type of optical and geometrical fiber mismatch. Navy fiber specifications tightly specify these parameters to minimize coupling losses from fiber mismatches

Figure 4-8. - Types of optical and geometrical fiber mismatches that cause intrinsic coupling loss.

Core diameter and NA mismatch have a greater effect on intrinsic coupling loss than the other types of fiber mismatches. In multimode fiber connections, the coupling loss resulting from core diameter mismatch, NA mismatch, and refractive index profile difference depends on the characteristics of the launching fiber. Coupling loss from core diameter mismatch results only if the launching fiber has a larger core radius (a) than the receiving fiber. Coupling loss from NA mismatch results only if the launching fiber has a higher NA than the receiving fiber. Coupling loss from refractive index profile difference results only if the launching fiber has a larger profile parameter (α) than the receiving fiber


A fiber optic splice is a permanent fiber joint whose purpose is to establish an optical connection between two individual optical fibers. System design may require that fiber connections have specific optical properties (low loss) that are met only by fiber-splicing. Fiber optic splices also permit repair of optical fibers damaged during installation, accident, or stress. System designers generally require fiber splicing whenever repeated connection or disconnection is unnecessary or unwanted.

Mechanical and fusion splicing are two broad categories that describe the techniques used for fiber splicing. A mechanical splice is a fiber splice where mechanical fixtures and materials perform fiber alignment and connection. A fusion splice is a fiber splice where localized heat fuses or melts the ends of two optical fibers together. Each splicing technique seeks to optimize splice performance and reduce splice loss. Low-loss fiber splicing results from proper fiber end preparation and alignment.Fiber splice alignment can involve passive or active fiber core alignment. Passive alignment relies on precision reference surfaces, either grooves or cylindrical holes, to align fiber cores during splicing. Active alignment involves the use of light for accurate fiber alignment. Active alignment may consist of either monitoring the loss through the splice during splice alignment or by using a microscope to accurately align the fiber cores for splicing. To monitor loss either an optical source and optical power meter or an optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) are used. Active alignment procedures produce low-loss fiber splices.


Mechanical splicing involves using mechanical fixtures to align and connect optical fibers. Mechanical splicing methods may involve either passive or active core alignment. Active core alignment produces a lower loss splice than passive alignment. However, passive core alignment methods can produce mechanical splices with acceptable loss measurements even with single mode fibers.

In the strictest sense, a mechanical splice is a permanent connection made between two optical fibers. Mechanical splices hold the two optical fibers in alignment for an indefinite period of time without movement. The amount of splice loss is stable over time and unaffected by changes in environmental or mechanical conditions.

If high splice loss results from assembling some mechanical splices, the splice can be reopened and the fibers realigned. Realignment includes wiping the fiber or ferrule end with a soft wipe, reinserting the fiber or ferrule in a new arrangement, and adding new refractive index material. Once producing an acceptable mechanical splice, splice realignment should be unnecessary because most mechanical splices are environmentally and mechanically stable within their intended application.

The types of mechanical splices that exist for mechanical splicing include glass, plastic, metal, and ceramic tubes; and V-groove and rotary devices. Materials that assist mechanical splices in splicing fibers include transparent adhesives and index matching gels. Transparent adhesives are epoxy resins that seal mechanical splices and provide index matching between the connected fibers.

Glass or Ceramic Alignment Tube Splices

Mechanical splicing may involve the use of a glass or ceramic alignment tube, or capillary. The inner diameter of this glass or ceramic tube is only slightly larger than the outer diameter of the fiber. A transparent adhesive, injected into the tube, bonds the two fibers together. The adhesive also provides index matching between the optical fibers. Figure 4-9 illustrates fiber alignment using a glass or ceramic tube. This splicing technique relies on the inner diameter of the alignment tube. If the inner diameter is too large, splice loss will increase because of fiber misalignment. If the inner diameter is too small, it is impossible to insert the fiber into the tube.

Figure 4-9. - A glass or ceramic alignment tube for mechanical splicing. 

V-Grooved Splices

Mechanical splices may also use either a grooved substrate or positioning rods to form suitable V-grooves for mechanical splicing. The basic V-grooved device relies on an open grooved substrate to perform fiber alignment. When inserting the fibers into the grooved substrate, the V-groove aligns the cladding surface of each fiber end. A transparent adhesive makes the splice permanent by securing the fiber ends to the grooved substrate. Figure 4-10 illustrates this type of open V-grooved splice.

Figure 4-10. - Open V-grooved splice. 

V-grooved splices may involve sandwiching the butted ends of two prepared fibers between a V-grooved substrate and a flat glass plate. Additional V-grooved devices use two or three positioning rods to form a suitable V-groove for splicing. The V-grooved device that uses two positioning rods is the spring V-grooved splice. This splice uses a groove formed by two rods positioned in a bracket to align the fiber ends. The diameter of the positioning rods permits the outer surface of each fiber end to extend above the groove formed by the rods. A flat spring presses the fiber ends into the groove maintaining fiber alignment. Transparent adhesive completes the assembly process by bonding the fiber ends and providing index matching. Figure 4-11 is an illustration of the spring V-grooved splice. A variation of this splice uses a third positioning rod instead of a flat spring. The rods are held in place by a heat-shrinkable band, or tube.

Figure 4-11. - Spring V-grooved mechanical splice. 

Rotary Splices

In a rotary splice, the fibers are mounted into a glass ferrule and secured with adhesives. The splice begins as one long glass ferrule that is broken in half during the assembly process. A fiber is inserted into each half of the tube and epoxied in place using an ultraviolet cure epoxy. The endface of the tubes are then polished and placed together using the alignment sleeve. Figure 4-12 is an illustration of a rotary splice. The fiber ends retain their original orientation and have added mechanical stability since each fiber is mounted into a glass ferrule and alignment sleeve. The rotary splice may use index matching gel within the alignment sleeve to produce low-loss splices.

Figure 4-12. - Rotary mechanical splice. 

In shipboard applications, the Navy recommends using the rotary splice. The rotary splice is a low-loss mechanical splice that provides stable environmental and mechanical performance in the Navy environment. Stable performance means that splice loss does not vary significantly with changes in temperature or other environmental or mechanical conditions. Completing a rotary splice also requires only a small amount of training, or expertise. This shorter training time is another reason why the Navy recommends using the rotary splice over other mechanical or fusion splicing

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Thu, 06/04/2009 - 11:35