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White Paper

Optical Level Controller

The smart way for receiver sensitivity testing with controlled optical power level


An Optical Level Controller is a powerful measurement tool to control optical power or to keep it
constant. The OLC is a combination of an optical attenuator, optical power meter and control software.
Using a monitor coupler for the optical power meter, the instrument can be used as an in-line tester,
getting the information of the launched power at the input, the optical output power (controlled) and
the actual attenuation. Of course, the OLC can also be used as a stand-alone optical attenuator and
power meter. The combination of both functions – most of the attenuator applications are to control
power, rather than the attenuation itself – helps system engineers and technicians to solve their
measurement task in a more efficient way. Measurement time can be cut from minutes or hours down
to seconds.
Optical attenuators are essential and basic components used to adapt and control optical power in
many different applications. Attenuators come in different types dependent on the application they are
used in. Fixed attenuators are the most basic ones used wherever the power has to be reduced by a
certain amount and space and cost is critical. Variable attenuators allow the adjustment of the
attenuation value and therefore offer more flexibility and a wider range of applications but they are also
more expensive. A powerful extension feature is the automatic control of the attenuator device.
Attenuators are used as part of systems as well as standalone measurement tools. Typical measurement
applications where variable optical attenuators are used are simulation of line loss, power adaptation to
system interfaces as well as receiver sensitivity testing. Measurement test set-ups often require an optical
power meter in addition. This is because power level values are required for evaluation and
interpretation of the measurement results.
In Out


Control Meter

figure 1 Optical level controller

Most recent measurement equipment products now include a variable optical attenuator and a power
meter functionality in one instrument. With the information of the optical power meter it is also
possible to control the variable optical attenuator automatically by means of a feedback loop. The figure
below shows the block diagram of a controlled variable optical attenuator. This device can be also
described as automatic level controller (ALC) – or in the optical domain as Optical Level Controller
(OLC) – which can provide a controlled, stable optical power level at the output port.
Using this type of instrument helps system engineers and field technicians because the measurement
set-ups are easier and faster to do which saves time and money. They have to connect just one instead
of two instruments. Especially receiver sensitivity testing is an example where an Optical Level
Controller can be used as an useful tool to speed up measurement and to simplify test set-up.

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Receiver sensitivity testing

This test aims to guarantee certain error levels at extremely low input power levels to meet systems
design objectives. Receiver sensitivity is the minimum acceptable value of average received power at a
receiver input to achieve a 1 x 10-10 or 1 x 10-12 bit error ratio (BER) according to ITU-T G.957. The
general test set-up is given in the following figure.

Tributary Side

Line Side DEMUX

Receive Optical Tx Electrical
Test Pattern Rx

OLC-65 ONT-50
Optical Level OTN Module
Controller 2.5/2.7G FEC

Remote Control (optional)

Figure 2: Receiver sensitivity test set-up with remote control

Each receiver unit (e.g. at the end of a DWDM link) has to be tested separately. The SDH/SONET/OTN
bit error ratio tester (ONT-50 equipped with OTN Module 2.5G/2.7G FEC) provides a pseudo-random
binary sequence (PRBS) test pattern (e.g. 223-1) to feed the receiver under test (Rx) via the Optical Level
Controller. The signal BER will be determined after the receiver. The input power at the receiver under
test is increased until a BER of just little better than 1 x 10-10 is achieved. Power level values and
corresponding BER values are recorded.
The measured data points for a typical receiver allow an extrapolation (waterfall curve or straight line
dependent on scaling of BER axis) in order to predict the BER in regions where direct measurements
would require very long measurement times. Measurement time can be cut from minutes or hours to
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An example of an OC-48 long-reach avalanche photo diode (APD) receiver can be seen in the following
figure. The receiver sensitivity can be determined at about -32 dBm for a BER of 1 x 10-10 (or 31.4
dBm for a BER of 1 x 10-12). The non-linear scaling of the BER axis allows a linear regression as
extrapolation method for the individual measured data points.

Figure 3: BER vs. optical input power for determination of receiver sensitivity

Receiver sensitivity testing may be done in the field as part of system acceptance testing as well as in the
lab during component and line card design or during system verification testing. For this reason an
optical handheld instrument with manual or remote operation capabilities offers the most flexible and
economic solution as it can be used in both environments.
Using an Optical Level Controller in this type of test set-up offers some significant advantages for
system manufacturers and network providers:
– One instrument instead of two – the Optical Level Controller comprises a variable optical
attenuator and an optical power meter.
– Avoids errors – measurement set-ups with two separate instruments have been often carried out
by either re-arranging optical connections or by using external couplers. Using an Optical Level
Controller helps to avoid errors through multiple re-connections or uncertainties through
external couplers.
– Saves time – simplified test set-ups with one instead of two instruments and simultaneous
operation of attenuator and power meter makes handling faster and easier.
– Extended functionality and flexibility – the Optical Level Controller can be used to provide a
controlled optical power level for BER readings at pre-defined levels.
In the longer term, a solution which provides the combination of a variable optical attenuator and an
optical power meter together in an Optical Level Controller helps system manufactures and network
providers to save time and money for applications like receiver sensitivity testing. An Optical Level
Controller helps to solve their test requirements in a smarter way through simpler test set-up and more
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Additional information

Receiver sensitivity standards:

– ITU-T G.957
– ANSI T1.105.06
– Telcordia GR253

All statements, technical information and recommendations related to the products herein are based upon informa-
tion believed to be reliable or accurate. However, the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed, and no
responsibility is assumed for any inaccuracies. The user assumes all risks and liability whatsoever in connection with
the use of a product or its application. JDSU reserves the right to change at any time without notice the design,
specifications, function, fit or form of its products described herein, including withdrawal at any time of a product
offered for sale herein. JDSU makes no representations that the products herein are free from any intellectual
property claims of others. Please contact JDSU for more information. JDSU and the JDSU logo are trademarks of
JDS Uniphase Corporation. Other trademarks are the property of their respective holders. ©2005 JDS Uniphase
Corporation. All rights reserved. 10143182 500 1005 OLCTEST.WP.OPT.TM.AE

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