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Fiber Optic

An optical fiber or fibre is a thin, transparent fiber, usually made of glass or plastic, for transmitting light. Fiber optics is the branch of applied science and engineering concerned with such optical fibers.

Optical fibers are often used in enterprise video surveillance deployments. Fiber optic technology is a cutting edge method of sending and receiving information over great distances using light as the carrier. The signal cannot be disrupted by outside sources like electricity, rain, humidity, or other things that tend to damage conventional copper wire signals. Fiber optic systems offer high security because they do not induce or emit any external energy. A signal loss can be detected almost immediately as log a the system is monitored. Fiber systems are more affective then conventional means because the maintenance cost of copper systems is greater than that of fiber. Practically, copper is a non-renewable resource and is scarcer than the raw material sand- used to fabricate the glass inside optical fiber.

Benefits of Fiber Optics

Extended Range
The low signal attenuation performance and superior signal integrity found in fiber optic systems facilitates much longer runs for signal transmission than metal-based systems. While single-line, voice-grade copper systems require in-line signal repeaters for satisfactory performance over long distances, it is common for multimode optical systems to extend to two kilometers (km) - or about 1.25 miles. Singlemode fiber systems to reach up to twenty or more km - about 12.5 miles - with no active or passive processing. Emerging technologies for fiber optics promise even greater distances in the future.

The long, continuous lengths and small diameters of fiber optic cable runs, provide numerous advantages for installers and end-users. Since today's applications require an ever-increasing amount of bandwidth, it is important to consider space constraints. It is commonplace to install new fiber optic cabling within existing HVAC duct systems. The relatively small diameter and light weight of optical cables make such installations more practical and also saves valuable electrical conduit space.

System designers typically plan optical systems that will meet growth needs for a fifteen- to twenty-year life span. Although sometimes difficult to predict, potential growth can be accommodated by installing spare fiber cables for future requirements. Installation of spare fibers today is more economical than installing additional ones later. In addition, with the use of multiplexing technology, additional channels can be carried over the same fiber cable by simply upgrading the hardware at either end.

There are many benefits to using fiber optic cable instead of copper cable. Some of the most important advantages concern fiber's inherently superior dielectric properties. Since optical fiber has no metallic components, it is unsurpassed for providing complete electrical isolation as well as noise immunity.

Electrical isolation is most important when it comes to eliminating ground loops. A ground loop is a condition where an unintended connection to the ground is made through an interfering electrical conductor. Generally, a ground loop connection exists when an electrical system is connected in more than one way to an electrical ground. Since there is no electrical conduction through fiber cable, equipment grounded at one end of the connection is completely isolated from the ground at the other end. Ground loops can be an especially irritating source of headaches in even the simplest sound systems. By using optical fiber signal transmission, you can eliminate these major sources of problems - entirely.

Another advantage of optical fiber is its immunity to external noise. Electrical noise, also known as EMI (electromagnetic interference), and RFI (radio frequency interference), are electrical signals that produce undesirable effects and otherwise disrupt audio and data systems. Sources of EMI/RFI include lighting equipment, computers, electric motors, radio and TV broadcasts. Fluorescent lights and power lines are a common source of annoying 60 Hz hum. Lightning can also be a common natural source of audio and data system interference and disruption. The interference from all these sources modifies and interacts with data signals in metal cables, causing data errors and transient unreliability. Even traditional high-quality "balanced" copper cables are susceptible to EMI/RFI and lightning problems. In summary, fiber optic cables are totally immune to any extraneous electrical fields, so they carry only clean signals.

The Future

Fiber optics is affordable today, as the price of electronics falls and optical cable pricing remains low. In many cases, fiber solutions are actually less costly than copper. As bandwidth demands increase rapidly with technological advances, fiber will continue to play a vital role in the long-term success of more reliable telecommunications.

Principle of operation

An optical fiber (American spelling) or fibre (British spelling) is a cylindrical dielectric waveguide that transmits light along its axis, by the process of total internal reflection. The fiber consists of a denser core surrounded by a cladding layer. For total internal reflection to confine the optical signal in the core, the refractive index of the core must be greater than that of the cladding. The boundary between the core and cladding may either be abrupt, in step-index fiber, or gradual, in graded-index fiber.

A diagram which illustrates the propagation of light through a multi-mode optical fiber.

Fiber with large (greater than 10 m) core diameter may be analyzed by geometric optics. Such fiber is called multi-mode fiber, from the electromagnetic analysis (see below). In a step-index fiber, rays of light are guided along the fiber core by total internal reflection. Rays that meet the core-cladding boundary at a high angle (measured relative to a line normal to the boundary) are completely reflected. The minimum angle for total internal reflection is determined by the difference in index of refraction between the core and cladding materials. Rays that meet the boundary at a low angle are refracted from the core into the cladding, where they are not useful for conveying light along the fiber. In this way, the minimum angle for total internal reflection determines the acceptance angle of the fiber, often reported as a numerical aperture. A high numerical aperture makes it easier to efficiently couple a transmitter or receiver to the fiber. However, by allowing light to propagate down the fiber in rays both close to the axis and at various angles, a high numerical aperture also increases the amount of multi-path spreading, or dispersion, that affects light pulses in the fiber.

In graded-index fiber, the index of refraction in the core decreases continuously between the axis and the cladding. This causes light rays to bend smoothly as they approach the cladding, rather than reflect abruptly from the core-cladding boundary. The resulting curved paths reduce multi-path dispersion because high angle rays pass more through the lower-index periphery of the core, rather than the high-index center. The index profile is chosen to minimize the difference in axial propagation speeds of the various rays in the fiber. This ideal index profile is very close to a parabolic relationship between the index and the distance from the axis.

Fiber with a core diameter narrower than a few wavelengths of the light carried, is analyzed as an electromagnetic structure, by solution of Maxwell's equations, as reduced to the electromagnetic wave equation. The electromagnetic analysis may also be required to understand behaviors such as speckle that occur when coherent light propagates in multi-mode fiber. As an optical waveguide, the fiber supports one or more confined transverse modes by which light can propagate along its axis. Fiber supporting only one mode is called single-mode or mono-mode fiber, while fiber that supports more than one mode is called multi-mode fiber. By the waveguide analysis, it is seen that the light energy in the fiber is not completely confined in the core, but, especially in single-mode fibers, a significant fraction of the energy in the bound mode travels in the cladding as an evanescent wave.

A typical single-mode optical fiber, showing diameters of the component layers.

The common type of single-mode fiber has a core diameter of 8 to 10 m. It is notable that the mode structure depends on the wavelength of the light used, so that this fiber actually supports a small number of additional modes at visible wavelengths. Multi-mode fiber, by comparison, is manufactured with a core diameter of 50 m, 62.5 m, or larger.

Some special-purpose optical fiber is constructed with a non-cylindrical core and/or cladding layer, usually with an elliptical or rectangular cross-section. These include polarization-maintaining fiber and fiber designed to suppress whispering gallery mode propagation.

At high optical powers, above one watt, when a fiber is subjected to a shock or is otherwise suddenly damaged, a fiber fuse can occur. The reflection from the damage vaporizes the fiber immediately before the break, and this new defect remains reflective so that the damage propagates back toward the transmitter at 13 meters per second [2],[3],[4]. The open fiber control system, which ensures laser eye safety in the event of a broken fiber, can also effectively halt propagation of the fiber fuse [5]. In situations, such as undersea cables, where high power levels might be used without the need for open fiber control, a "fiber fuse" protection device at the transmitter can break the circuit to prevent damage.


Glass optical fibers are almost always made from silica, but some other materials, such as fluorozirconate, fluoroaluminate, and chalcogenide glasses are used for longer-wavelength infrared applications. Like other glasses, these glasses have a refractive index of about 1.5. Typically the difference between core and cladding is less than one percent.

Plastic optical fiber (POF) is commonly step-index multimode fiber, with core diameter of 1 mm or larger. POF typically has much higher attenuation than glass fiber (that is, the amplitude of the signal in it decreases faster), 1 dB/m or higher, and this high attenuation limits the range of POF-based systems.

Optical fiber communication

The optical fiber can be used as a medium for video security networking because it is flexible and can be bundled as cables. Although fibers can be made out of either transparent plastic or glass, the fibers used in long-distance telecommunications applications are always glass, because of the lower optical attenuation. Both multi-mode and single-mode fibers are used in communications, with multi-mode fiber used mostly for short distances (up to 500 m), and single-mode fiber used for longer distance links. Because of the tighter tolerances required to couple light into and between single-mode fibers, single-mode transmitters, receivers, amplifiers and other components are generally more expensive than multi-mode components.

The light used is typically infrared light, at wavelengths near to the minimum absorption wavelength of the fiber in use. The fiber absorption is minimal for 1550 nm light and dispersion is minimal at 1310 nm making these the optimal wavelength regions for data transmission. A local minimum of absorption is found near 850 nm, a wavelength for which low cost transmitters and receivers can be designed, and this wavelength is often used for short distance applications. Fibers are generally used in pairs, with one fiber of the pair carrying a signal in each direction.

Since the refractive index of glass is around 1.5, the speed of light in the fiber is around 200,000 km/s, or two thirds of the speed of light in a vacuum.

For modern glass optical fiber, the maximum transmission distance is limited not by attenuation but by dispersion, or spreading of optical pulses as they travel along the fiber. Dispersion in optical fibers is caused by a variety of factors. Intermodal dispersion, caused by the different axial speeds of different transverse modes, limits the performance of multi-mode fiber. Because single-mode fiber supports only one transverse mode, intermodal dispersion is eliminated. For single-mode fiber performance is limited by chromatic dispersion, which occurs because the index of the glass varies slightly depending on the wavelength of the light, and light from real optical transmitters has nonzero spectral width. Polarization mode dispersion, which can limit the performance of single-mode systems, occurs because although the single-mode fiber can sustain only one transverse mode, it can carry this mode with two different polarizations, and slight imperfections or distortions in a fiber can alter the propagation velocities for the two polarizations. Dispersion limits the bandwidth of the fiber because the spreading optical pulse limits the rate that pulses can follow one another on the fiber and still be distinguishable at the receiver.

Because the effect of dispersion increases with the length of the fiber, a fiber transmission system is often characterized by its bandwidth-distance product, often expressed in units of MHzkm. This value is a product of bandwidth and distance because there is a tradeoff between the bandwidth of the signal and the distance it can be carried. For example, a common multimode fiber with bandwidth-distance product of 500 MHzkm could carry a 500 MHz signal for 1 km or a 1000 MHz signal for 0.5 km. In single-mode fiber systems, both the fiber characteristics and the spectral width of the transmitter contribute to determining the bandwidth-distance product of the system. Typical single-mode systems can sustain transmission distances of 80 to 140 km (50 to 87 miles) between regenerations of the signal. By using an extremely narrow-spectrum laser source, data rates of up to 40 gigabits per second are achieved in real-world applications.

Using Wavelength division multiplexing (WDM), the bandwidth carried by a single fiber can be increased into the range of terabits per second. This is accomplished by transmitting many wavelengths at once on the fiber. Wavelength division multiplexers and demultiplexers are used to combine and split up the wavelengths at each end of the link. In coarse WDM (CWDM) only a few wavelengths are used. One use of CWDM is to allow bidirectional communications over one fiber. Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) usually involves transmitting and receiving more than eight "windows" of light. Sixteen, 40, and 80 windowed systems are common. Mathematically, 111 windows are possible over a single pair of optical fibers at the wavelengths used today.

The range of long-range systems is extended by the use of repeaters and optical amplifiers. A repeater is essentially a back-to-back receiver and transmitter, which regenerates the optical signal, eliminating or reducing the degradations resulting from transmission through the fiber. An optical amplifier is typically made by doping a length of fiber with the rare-earth mineral erbium, and pumping it with light from a laser with a shorter wavelength than the communications signal (typically 980 nm). Because of their greater reliability, amplifiers have largely replaced repeaters in new installations. Recent advances in fiber and optical communications technology have reduced signal degradation so far that regeneration of the optical signal is only needed over distances of hundreds of kilometers. This has greatly reduced the cost of optical networking, particularly over undersea spans where the cost and reliability of repeaters is one of the key factors determining the performance of the whole cable system. The main advances contributing to these performance improvements are dispersion management, which seeks to balance the effects of dispersion against nonlinearity; and solitons, which use nonlinear effects in the fiber to enable dispersion-free propagation over long distances.

Comparison with electrical transmission

The choice between optical fiber and electrical (or "copper") transmission for a particular system is made based on a number of trade-offs. Optical fiber is generally chosen for systems with higher bandwidths, spanning longer distances, than electrical cabling can provide. The main benefits of fiber are its exceptionally low loss, allowing long distances between amplifiers or repeaters; and its inherently high data-carrying capacity, such that thousands of electrical links would be required to replace a single high bandwidth fiber. One further benefit of fiber is that even when run alongside each other for long distances, fiber cables experience effectively no crosstalk, in contrast to some types of electrical transmission lines.

In short distance and relatively low bandwidth applications, electrical transmission is often preferred because of its

  • Lower material cost, when cabling is not required.
  • Lower cost of transmitters and receivers.
  • Ease of splicing.
  • Capability to carry electrical power as well as signals.

Because of these benefits of electrical transmission, optical communication is not common in short box-to-box, backplane, or chip-to-chip applications; however, optical systems on those scales have been demonstrated in the laboratory.

In certain situations fiber may be used even for short distance or low bandwidth applications, due to other important features:

  • Immunity to electromagnetic interference, including nuclear electromagnetic pulses (although fiber can be damaged by alpha and beta radiation).
  • High electrical resistance, making it safe to use near high-voltage equipment or between areas with different earth potentials.
  • Low weight, important in aircraft.
  • No sparks, important in flammable or explosive gas environments.
  • Not electromagnetically radiating, and difficult to tap without disrupting the signal, important in high-security environments.
  • Much smaller cable size - important where pathway is limited.

Governing standards

In order for various manufacturers to be able to develop components that function compatibly in fiber optic communication systems, a number of standards have been developed. The International Telecommunications Union publishes several standards related to the characteristics and performance of fibers themselves, including

  • ITU-T G.651, "Characteristics of a 50/125 m multimode graded index optical fibre cable"
  • ITU-T G.652, "Characteristics of a single-mode optical fibre cable"

Other standards, produced by a variety of standards organizations, specify performance criteria for fiber, transmitters, and receivers to be used together in conforming systems. Some of these standards are the following:

  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet
  • FDDI
  • Fibre Channel
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • SDH

Fiber optic sensors

Optical fibers can be used as sensors to measure strain, temperature, pressure and other parameters. The small size and the fact that no electrical power is needed at the remote location gives the fiber optic sensor advantages to conventional electrical sensor in certain applications.

Optical fibers are used as hydrophones for seismic or SONAR applications. Hydrophone systems with more than 100 sensors per fiber cable have been developed. Hydrophone sensor systems are used by the oil industry as well as a few countries' navies. Both bottom mounted hydrophone arrays and towed streamer systems are in use. The German company Sennheiser developed a microphone working with a laser and optical fibers[6].

Optical fiber sensors for temperature and pressure have been developed for downhole measurement in oil wells. The fiber optic sensor is well suited for this environment as it is functioning at temperatures too high for semiconductor sensors.

Another use of the optical fiber as a sensor is the optical gyroscope which is in use in the Boeing 767 and in some car models (for navigation purposes).


Optical fiber is made by first constructing a large-diameter preform, with a carefully controlled refractive index profile, and then pulling the preform to form the long, thin optical fiber. The preform is commonly made by three chemical vapor deposition methods: inside vapor deposition, outside vapor deposition, and vapor axial deposition.

In inside vapor deposition, a hollow glass tube approximately 40 cm in length known as a "preform" is placed horizontally and rotated slowly on a lathe, and gases such as silicon tetrachloride (SiCl4) or germanium tetrachloride (GeCl4) are injected with oxygen in the end of the tube. The gases are then heated by means of an external hydrogen burner, bringing the temperature of the gas up to 1900 kelvins, where the tetrachlorides react with oxygen to produce silica or germania (germanium oxide) particles. When the reaction conditions are chosen to allow this reaction to occur in the gas phase throughout the tube volume, in contrast to earlier techniques where the reaction occurred only on the glass surface, this technique is called modified chemical vapor deposition.

The oxide particles then agglomerate to form large particle chains, which subsequently deposit on the walls of the tube as soot. The deposition is due to the large difference in temperature between the gas core and the wall causing the gas to push the particles outwards (this is known as thermophoresis). The torch is then traversed up and down the length of the tube to deposit the material evenly. After the torch has reached the end of the tube, it is then brought back to the beginning of the tube and the deposited particles are then melted to form a solid layer. This process is repeated until a sufficient amount of material has been deposited. For each layer the composition can be varied by varying the gas composition, resulting in precise control of the finished fiber's optical properties.

In outside vapor deposition or vapor axial deposition, the glass is formed by flame hydrolysis, a reaction in which silicon tetrachloride and germanium tetrachloride are oxidized by reaction with water (H2O) in an oxyhydrogen flame. In outside vapor deposition the glass is deposited onto a solid rod, which is removed before further processing. In vapor axial deposition, a short seed rod is used, and a porous preform, whose length is not limited by the size of the source rod, is built up on its end. The porous preform is consolidated into a transparent, solid perform by heating to about 1800 kelvins.

The preform, however constructed, is then placed in a device known as a drawing tower, where the preform tip is heated and the optic fiber is pulled out as a string. By measuring the resultant fiber width, the tension on the fiber can be controlled to maintain the fiber thickness.

Optical fiber cables

In practical fibers, the cladding is usually coated with a tough resin buffer layer, which may be further surrounded by a jacket layer, usually plastic. These layers add strength to the fiber but do not contribute to its optical wave guide properties.

For indoor applications, the jacketed fiber is generally enclosed, with a bundle of flexible fibrous polymer (e.g. Kevlar) strength members, in a lightweight plastic cover to form a simple cable. Each end of the cable may be terminated with a specialized optical fiber connector to allow it to be easily connected and disconnected from transmitting and receiving equipment.

For use in more strenuous environments, a much more robust cable construction is required. In loose-tube construction the fiber is laid helically into semi-rigid tubes, allowing the cable to stretch without stretching the fiber itself. This protects the fiber from tension during laying and due to temperature changes. Alternatively the fiber may be embedded in a heavy polymer jacket. These fiber units are commonly attached to additional steel strength members, again with a helical twist to allow for stretching.

Another critical concern in cabling is to protect the fiber from contamination by water, because its component hydrogen (hydronium) and hydroxyl ions can diffuse into the fiber, reducing the fiber's strength and increasing the optical attenuation. Water is kept out of the cable by use of solid barriers such as copper tubes, or water-repellant jelly surrounding the fiber.

Finally, the cable may be armored to protect it from environmental hazards, such as construction work or gnawing animals. Undersea cables are more heavily armored in their near-shore portions to protect them from boat anchors, fishing gear, and even sharks, which may be attracted to the electrical power signals that are carried to power amplifiers or repeaters in the cable.

Modern fiber cables can contain up to a thousand fibers in a single cable, so the performance of optical networks easily accommodate even today's demands for bandwidth on a point-to-point basis. However, unused point-to-point potential bandwidth does not translate to operating profits, and it is estimated that no more than 1% of the optical fiber buried in recent years is actually 'lit'.

Modern cables come in a wide variety of sheathings and armor, designed for applications such as direct burial in trenches, dual use as power lines [7], installation in conduit, lashing to aerial telephone poles, submarine installation, or insertion in paved streets. In recent years the cost of small fiber-count pole mounted cables has greatly decreased due to the high Japanese and South Korean demand for Fiber to the Home (FTTH) installations.

Termination and splicing

Optical fibers are connected to terminal equipment by optical fiber connectors. These connectors are usually of a standard type such as FC, SC, ST, or LC.

Optical fibers may be connected to each other by connectors or by splicing, that is, joining two fibers together to form a continuous optical waveguide. The generally accepted splicing method is arc fusion splicing, which melts the fibre ends together with an electric arc. For quicker fastening jobs, a "mechanical splice" is used. The fiber ends are aligned and held together by a precision-made sleeve.

Various methods to align two fiber ends to each other or one fiber to an optical device (VCSEL, LED, waveguide etc.) have been reported. They all follow either an active fiber alignment approach or a passive fiber alignment approach.

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"Optical fiber." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Aug 2006, 11:01 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 Aug 2006

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