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FIBER OPTICS

Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar


Department of Electrical Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

Lecture: 11
Analysis of Signal Distortion in Optical Fiber

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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The main function of a system designer is to design a system that provides


the user with multiple benefits such as authenticity, accuracy, reliability, durability
and a sense of aesthetic appeal. To achieve such goals, the designer has to ensure
the use of superior quality constituents, be it hardware or software. An optical fiber
system is no exception to this. To ensure an accurate and reliable system, optical
fibers too, must be tested and verified before use. In this section, we shall look into
various practical aspects and measurements that help us to choose the appropriate
optical fiber for the appropriate purpose.
The very basic operation to be performed on an optical fiber is to connect it to
a standard connector. To do so, the fiber has to be appropriately cut and prepared
before it can be coupled to a connector. After cutting the fiber, if the surface of the tip
of the fiber is not flat, there would be scattering of light at the tip of the fiber and the
light would not form a beam. A few such imperfections that may occur at the tip of
the fiber due to adoption of improper cutting method are shown in the figure below. A
perfectly flat type cut is also shown.

Figure 11.1: Few types of fiber tips


As a result of such imperfections, loss of signal power occurs when we couple
the fiber to a connector or join to fibers to couple light energy from one to the other.
In order to minimize this loss, the fibers have to cut in proper way and the surface of
the fiber tip has to be reasonable flattened. This process of making a fiber tip ready
for connection is called as end-preparation. The process of cutting a fiber is called
fiber cleaving. The arrangement required for proper cleaving of an optical fiber is
shown in the figure 11.2 below. The optical fiber that is to be cleaved is held over a
curved wedge and a gentle cut is made on the fiber with a scoring blade as shown in
the figure. Now tension is applied on to the fiber on either side of the fiber so as to
pull it apart. In this process, the cut develops deeper into the fiber thereby forming a
considerably flat surface on the tip of the optical fiber. However, even after this
process, minor irregularities may remain due to system and handling errors. These
resultant irregularities are then smoothened by polishing the tip of the fiber.
Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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Figure 11.2: Fiber Cleaving


Polishing of the optical fiber may done by gently rubbing the tip of the optical fiber on
a specially available fiber-polishing card which is more like a common day sandpaper but is smother than it. The surface of the tip of the optical fiber is now
reasonable made flat and is ready to be coupled to either a connector or another
similarly prepared optical fiber to make a joint.
Once an optical fiber is cleaved, the next operation done on the fiber is the
splicing process. There are various types of splices based on the type of application
for which the splice is required for. Broadly, a splice may be either temporary or a
permanent splice. If the joint has to be connected and disconnected frequently, we
use the temporary splicing where the fibers may be either temporarily connected
through some connectors or they may be inserted into some rubber tube from the
either sides which holds them aligned together temporarily. Temporary splices are
very rarely necessary because it is accompanied by a large loss figure and as such
we mostly use permanent splicing techniques to join two fibers. The main type of
permanent splicing technique is the fusion splicing technique.

Figure 11.3: Fusion Splicing Technique


In fusion splicing technique, we place two end prepared optical fibers clamped
opposite to each other almost perfectly aligned as shown in the figure 11.3 above.
Once the fibers get aligned, an electric discharge is passed through the small gap
between the ends and at the same time a gentle inward push is applied onto the
fibers. The electric discharge causes the glass of the two fibers near the ends to melt
momentarily and the inward push then causes these two molten ends to get fused
into each other. This type of joint is permanent and also has lower loss figure than a
temporary joint and hence is much preferred. There is also one another type of
Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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permanent joint known as the UV cured type of joint. In this process the two ends are
held close to each other in a liquid which when exposed to UV rays, solidifies
thereby forming a joint between the fibers.
When two optical fiber ends are brought close to each other to form a joint
(temporary or permanent) there always remains a possibility of mechanical errors
which causes the fibers to get misaligned. These misalignments are shown below.

Figure 11.4: Mechanical Misalignment of optical fibers in fiber joints


The fibers may get misaligned laterally, wherein the axes of the two fibers get
misaligned as shown in the above figure. The second common type of misalignment
is the longitudinal type of misalignment in which there remains a gap between the
two fiber ends in the final joint. The third type is the angular misalignment where the
two fiber axes are not parallel to each other as shown in the above figure. One
common thread that runs through all these mechanical misalignments is that all of
them lead to a loss of light energy at the misalignment. Hence proper orientation of
the two fiber ends before forming a joint is very necessary to ensure a loss-less
coupling of light from one fiber to another. If we plot the different types of loss (in dB)
curves corresponding to the different types of misalignments, with respect to the
normalized (with respect to fiber core radius a) separation between the two tips, we
get a curve as shown in the figure 11.5 below.

Figure 11.5: Comparison of Misalignment loses.

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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In any good practical systems, these loses are minimized by performing


proper alignment of the optical fibers in all respects at every splice point. So in
practical systems, typical splice loss ranges from 0.5-1dB only. To minimize this
value further, special splicing machines are available which automatically align the
two optical fiber ends with high precision by launching light from one fiber to the
other. Then it adjusts the parameters in 6 degrees of freedom and an electric arc is
passed when maximum optical power is found to couple from one fiber to the other.
These machines further lower the loss to about 0.05-0.1dB. (Splicing machines shall
be practically demonstrated in later sections.)
The next operation which we perform on an optical fiber to test its suitability
for the application is the measurement of the different fiber parameters. By obtaining
the values of these parameters we try to choose the appropriate fiber as per
requirement. The most important parameter of all others is the fiber loss. The loss in
an optical fiber is composed of two components- first, the intrinsic characteristics of
the fiber and the second, the environment in which the fiber is used. So to get a
correct estimate of the loss in an optical fiber, we have to make measurements of
fiber loss in both the situations.
Let us first look into a very simple experiment to determine the numerical
aperture (N.A.) of an optical fiber. Determination of numerical aperture involves
launching of light into an optical fiber and producing a spot on the other side of the
fiber. The diagrammatical representation of this experiment is shown in the figure
11.6 below.

Figure 11.6: Experiment to measure Numerical Aperture of an optical fiber.


Numerical Aperture of an optical fiber is a numerical value which is actually,
the sine of the maximum possible launching angle of the optical fiber (reader is
assumed to be clear about N.A. from the first transcript). To measure N.A., we
launch light into an optical fiber and measure the diameter (D) of the spot produced
on a screen on the output side as shown in the above figure. Then by measuring the
distance between this screen and the end of the optical fiber (x), we make the
following calculations:

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

(11.1)
(11.2)

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Here max is the maximum launching angle of light into the optical fiber. So by
the above experiment we can determine the numerical aperture of the optical fiber
and hence, get an estimate of the launching efficiency of the optical fiber. The
experimental set-up in the figure 11.6 can also be used to determine the mode field
diameter of a single mode optical fiber in which the screen has to be replaced by an
optical intensity sensor which would plot the variation of optical intensity in the radial
direction. This plot (as already discussed) can be approximated by a Gaussian
distribution and the mode field diameter can be calculated from this plot. Mode field
diameter is a more appropriate characteristic parameter for a practical single mode
optical fiber and hence, is very important to be determined. Since the mode field
diameter is a wavelength dependent quantity, one can carry out the measurement at
certain wavelength and then scale it approximately to the desired wavelength.
As already mentioned, the loss in an optical fiber is comprised of two
components- intrinsic and environmental. Environmental loss refers to the
parameters which contribute to the loss in an optical fiber when the fiber is used in a
particular system. However, the intrinsic loss figure has to be estimated before the
optical fiber is put to any application. For calculating loss, we have two distinct
techniques- destructive technique and the non-destructive technique. In the
destructive technique, the intrinsic loss is measured before the fiber is put to use in
any system. In the non-destructive technique, however, the intrinsic loss in the fiber
can be measured even after the fiber is connected in any system and also during its
operating condition. Special equipment is available for this purpose of real time loss
measurement.
Let us first understand the destructive technique of optical fiber loss
measurement. The first destructive technique is named as the cut-back technique.
The set-up of this technique is shown in the figure below.

Figure 11.7: Cutback Technique


In this technique, an optical source launches light energy into a known length
of optical fiber and the output optical energy is detected using an optical detector.
The mode stripper acts as a filter to the unwanted modes generated by the source
and allows only those modes to pass which are well confined within the core. The
ratio of the actual amount of optical energy launched into the optical fiber to the
amount of optical energy detected gives the attenuation inside the optical fiber. That

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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is, for an optical fiber of length L (in kilometre), if Pin and Pout is the input and output
optical power respectively of the optical fiber, then:

(11.3)

Though the above method, theoretically, looks to be simple enough, yet, in


practical situations, it is not so. This is because, in practice, the value of P in cannot
be accurately measured due to large scattering losses at the tip of the optical fiber at
the launching point. So, even if we know the value of optical energy produced by the
source, the actual amount of light energy that enters the optical fiber is an uncertain
parameter due to the coupling losses.
To eradicate this difficulty, however, an intuitive strategy has been devised in
which, after measuring the Pout for the actual length of the fiber, a very small length
of the same optical fiber is cut and the Pout for this cut section is measure. For a very
small length of an optical fiber, the attenuation loss is negligible small. So, the P out of
the cut-section of the optical fiber may be, hence, considered as the P in in the
original fiber and this gives a reasonably accurate value of P in. Now with the help of
equation (11.3), the attenuation constant can be determined for the actual fiber.
Since this method involves cutting of the original fiber, it cannot be used after the
fiber is installed into a system and has to be used before the optical fiber is used for
any application. But this method has a reasonable amount of accuracy in the
measured value of attenuation constant.
A very powerful technique which can be employed to estimate the loss in an
optical fiber both before and after installing an optical fiber into a system is the one
that uses Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR). OTDR is analogous to
RADAR in operation. In a RADAR, we transmit a narrow radio-frequency pulse into
space and estimate the time delay and amplitude of the reflected signal (if any) of
the pulse which helps us to ascertain the distance and size of the object. So the
OTDR may be referred to as optical RADAR due to this analogy. The main parts of

Figure 11.8: Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR)


Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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an OTDR are shown in the figure 11.8. The laser source emits light of certain
wavelength which then passes through a beam splitter and enters the optical fiber
under test. The other end of the optical fiber is not of importance as yet. The
reflected light from the optical fiber returns and enters the beam splitter and is
collected by the photo-detector and amplifier and this amplified output is then
displayed on an oscilloscope. Thus, for a very narrow pulse of launched light there
would be multiple reflections arriving at different instants in time due to multiple
defects such as scattering, bending, etc. at different points along the fiber. Therefore,
the oscilloscope output is a time spread waveform of the very narrow input pulse.
The maximum time spread of the output waveform would correspond to the
maximum return time of a reflection on the fiber which corresponds to the light
reflected from the other end of the fiber. So, for an optical fiber of length L and
having an effective refractive index of neff, the maximum return time tmax is given by

(11.4)

A typical output waveform for a narrow input pulse is shown below in the
figure 11.9:

Figure 11.9: Output waveform of an OTDR (OTDR Trace)


It is clear from the above figure that the different causes of multiple reflections
along the optical fiber may be the micro-centres that cause Rayleigh scattering, the
micro-bending reflections, reflections at splice points, etc. Also to be noted is the
observation that, the graph is almost monotonically decreasing in nature. The reason
for this decrease is the gradual attenuation to the light pulse signal that occurs inside
the optical fiber as the light travels through the optical fiber. Basically, this is the
reason that the near end reflections have higher optical power amplitudes as
compared to the reflections from the far end. The slope of this curve at any point
gives the attenuation constant of the optical fiber at that point. In fact, the slope is
actually twice the attenuation constant, since the light is doubly attenuated in
reaching the detector-amplifier set-up. The abrupt peaks or spikes in the OTDR trace
of figure 11.9 are the points at which there are imperfections in the optical fiber
Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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leading to a loss in optical energy. At the far end of the fiber too, there would be a
reflection of light which is indicated by the spike at tmax. The OTDR trace, thus,
reveals a number of facts about the optical fiber such as its attenuation constant at a
particular point, positions of discontinuities or imperfections, connectors, splices etc.
OTDR is an extremely powerful technique to measure the losses in an optical fiber. It
also is useful in monitoring the status of an optical fiber while in operation as well as
in un-operating conditions. Since the OTDR requires the access to only the fiber
input, this method can also be employed after the optical fiber is commissioned into
the system. In fact, in practical systems, an OTDR is connected periodically to the
optical fiber under use and the OTDR trace is observed. The position of the defects
in the optical fiber is then found out from this trace and appropriate corrective
measures are taken.
Although a single narrow light pulse is enough to get an OTDR trace, this
notion is true only in theory. In practical situations, many other parameters such as
noise, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) etc. come into picture and so, a single optical
pulse does not suffice to get a trace on an OTDR. In practice, we transmit a series of
periodic narrow high power pulses and the reflections from these periodic pulses
help to generate a trace. This is done by averaging the reflected signal power at
regular intervals thereby increasing the SNR and a trace can be statistically plotted
out of these average values. So, in practical OTDRs, a train of periodic narrow high
power pulses are launched into an optical fiber under test and a trace is obtained on
the OTDR which helps us not only to make measurements of the loss but also to
detect the position of the loss.
The period of the pulses in an OTDR is known as the pulse repetition
frequency (PRF) and is given by:

(11.5)

The pulse repetition frequency is a function of the test length of the optical
fiber. Typically, this technique is used to test optical fibers of lengths upto 50 to
60Km. The second important quantity to be emphasized upon is the resolution of the
OTDR. Crudely, resolution refers to the minimum separation required between two
successive defects on the optical fiber so that they can be distinctly detected on the
trace. That is, if the separation between the two defects is less than the minimum
separation required, then the two defects would not be detected separately but
would be recognized as a single defect. This separation may be expressed either in
time domain or in spatial domain. In time domain, the resolution refers to the
minimum time delay between the arrivals of the two reflected signals from the two
successive defects. If the pulses arrive within this delay interval, they would no
longer be detected as two separate pulses. This time delay in the arrivals of the two
pulses may be defined to be approximately equal to the half-power time width of the
input pulse (thalf). Therefore, the half power width of the pulse should be as narrow
Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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as possible for better resolution. The corresponding spatial resolution, obtained by


multiplying this time delay with the velocity of light in the fiber, is (t half .c/neff).
However, this expression for resolution is true only towards the near end of the
optical fiber. The reason behind this statement is the dispersion present in the optical
fiber which causes the input pulse to spread in time as it travels along the fiber. The
half power width, hence, increases and the resolution gets poorer. We can, hence,
say that resolution is a function of the length of the optical fiber. The defects nearer
to the input end of the optical fiber are detected with higher resolution, but towards
the far end of the fiber, the resolution gets poorer because of the dispersion in the
fiber.
Let us now assume the input pulse that is launched into the optical fiber to be
of a Gaussian nature and also the dispersion that takes place in the optical fiber to
be Gaussian with respect to distance. The reflected pulse from the defect would also
be a Gaussian pulse because the dispersion is Gaussian in nature and is a function
of the length of travel of the pulse in the optical fiber. If the optical fiber under test
has a dispersion of D with a source spectral width of and a length of travel L,
the pulse broadening function of the optical fiber would have a variance of
approximately (D L)2. If the input light pulse be Gaussian with a half-power time
width of ti, then its variance would be given by ti2. The variance of the reflected
pulse at the input of the OTDR would just be a sum of the input and the pulse
broadening variances. The output pulse of this optical fiber at the OTDR would be,
hence, a convolution of the Gaussian input pulse and Gaussian pulse broadening
function and so, would also be Gaussian in nature with a width of {ti2+(D L)2}1/2.
This signifies that the resolution would now correspond to the pulse width given by
the above quantity. Thus when L is small, the second term under the radical sign
becomes negligibly small and the output pulse width is dominated by the input pulse
width, but for higher values of L the resolution gets poorer. Thus for a given OTDR
and source, the resolution will be a function of the length of the optical fiber.
OTDR technique is, hence, a very powerful technique because it can be used
even after an optical fiber is put to operation. In fact, in multi-channel applications, a
particular channel may be permanently assigned to the OTDR in order to constantly
monitor the status and the loss performance of the optical fiber even during its
operation and get alerts whenever a flaw arises. The high-end OTDRs of the modern
days are considerably sophisticated and offer resolutions of the order of a few
metres.
The next parameter that a designer is interested before selecting a particular
optical fiber for an application is the dispersion of the optical fiber. The experimental
arrangement of the determination of the dispersion of the optical fiber is shown in the
figure 11.10 below. The LASER diode launches light pulse into the test optical fiber,
the output of which is fed to an optical oscilloscope and the pulse broadening is thus
measured. The input pulse of light is also plotted on the display of the oscilloscope in
order to measure the amount of broadening of the pulse inside the optical fiber under
Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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Figure 11.10: Dispersion measurement of an optical fiber


test. The principle of this set-up is also based on the assumption that the output
pulse of the fiber is Gaussian in nature and is a convolution of the input pulse and
the dispersion broadening function in the optical fiber. Thus by obtaining the output
pulse variance and the input pulse variance for a given length of optical fiber, the
dispersion D in the optical fiber can be calculated by simple algebraic manipulations
in the following expression:

(11.6)

Here ti , and L have the same meanings as discussed above. Since the
equation occurs in the method of the OTDR as well, the same OTDR may be used to
measure the dispersion in the optical fiber too. In order to emulate dispersion in
larger lengths of optical fiber, sometimes, the light pulse is allowed to travel back and
forth the same fiber a multiple number of times and a dispersion estimate is made
from it.
The above discussion, thus, shows different techniques to determine various
useful parameters of an optical fiber that determines the suitability of a particular
fiber for a particular application and also helps a designer to pick the right kind of
fiber for his design in order to get maximum efficiency.

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay

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