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Communication is an important part of our daily life. The communication process involves information generation, transmission, reception and interpretation. As needs for various types of communication such as voice, images, video and data communications increase demands for large transmission capacity also increase. This need for large capacity has driven the rapid development light wave technology; a worldwide industry has developed. An optical or light wave communication system is a system that uses light waves as the carrier for transmission. An optical communication system mainly involves three parts. Transmitter, receiver and channel. In optical communication transmitters are light sources, receivers are light detectors and the channels are optical fibers. In optical communication the channel i.e, optical fibers plays an important role because it carries

the data from transmitter to the receiver. Hence, here we shall discuss mainly about optical fibers.

Optical Fibers in Communications

1. Introduction
Optical fibers are arguably one of the worlds most influential scientific developments from the latter half of the 20th century. Normally we are unaware that we are using them, although many of us do frequently. The majority of telephone calls and internet traffic at some stage in their journey will be transmitted along an optical fiber. More indirectly, many of the systems that we either rely on or enjoy in everyday life such as banks, television and newspapers as (to name only a very limited selection) are themselves dependent on communication systems that are dependent on optical fibers. There are various other uses of optical fibers which are irrelevant to this essay, although it is interesting developed to detect chemicals along pipelines (by using unprotected chemically sensitive fiber), detect plutonium smuggling, monitor strain in yacht masts, allow communication with CAT scan patients, construct gyroscopes with no moving parts, transmit images from telescopes, and possibly guide atoms (although this is very early in the stages of development). In this essay I shall attempt to cover the many areas of importance in optical fiber design. Only some crucial areas such as fiber design will be covered in detail; others such as signal sources and detectors will be discussed more briefly.

I shall also give some indication of the systems currently in use commercially and some of the systems currently being developed.

2. Why Optical Fiber?

Why has the development of fibers been given so much attention by the scientific community when we have alternatives? The main reason is bandwidth fibers can carry an extremely large amount of information. I shall discuss the advantages and disadvantages of fiber compared to the four other commonly used media. Twisted Pair Cable is used for, and is still suitable for, simple telephone links (known as the local loop) from the consumer to the nearest telephone exchange. The bandwidth is low, but is adequate for carrying low quality analogue voice signals. Attenuation of the signal is not significant over the short distances such signals are carried. The main advantage of twisted pair cable is the very low cost. Coaxial Cable can carry a much larger amount of data especially by multiplexing (the process of transmitting several signals of different wavelengths along the same cable) analogue signals. Multiplexing however is also possible with fiber, and fiber provides significantly higher bandwidth. Digital signals can be transmitted, but the bandwidth is limited if signal quality is to be maintained. Again, fiber is more expensive for many applications where coaxial cable is still used.

3. Fundamentals Of Fibers
The fundamental principle that makes optical fibers possible is total internal reflection. This is described using the ray model of light (see figure 1).

Figure 1 - Total Internal Reflection

From Snells Law we find that refraction (as shown by the dashed line) can only occur when the angle theta1 (between the incident ray and the material boundary) is large enough. This implies that as the angle is reduced, there must be a point when the light ray is reflected, where theta1 = theta2 (note that this is only true when the refractive index of the initial medium is greater than that of the adjacent medium, as shown by the value of n on the diagram). The angle where this happens is known as the

critical angle and is: Cladding. The core is (according to the ray model) where the light rays travel and the cladding is a similar material of slightly lower refractive index to cause total internal reflection. Usually both sections are fabricated from silica (glass). The light within the fiber is then continuously totally internally reflected along the waveguide. When light enters the fiber we must also consider refraction at the interface of the air and the fiber core. The difference in refractive index causes refraction of the ray as it enters the fiber, allowing rays to enter the fiber at an angle greater than the angle allowed within the fiber (see figure 2).

Figure 2 - Acceptance Angle

This acceptance angle, theta, is a crucial parameter for fiber and system designers. More widely recognized is the parameter NA (Numerical Aperture) that is given by the following equation:

Also crucial to understanding fibers is the principle of modes. A more in-depth analysis of the propagation of light along an optical fiber requires the light to be treated as an electromagnetic wave (rather that as a ray). Unfortunately there is not room for such a mathematical treatment in this essay, but we should note that it leads to a quantisation of the angles at which rays can travel through the fiber.

Figure 3 Modes The solid line is the lowest order mode shown on figure 3. It is clear that according to the ray model the lowest order mode will travel down a given length of fiber quicker than the others. The electromagnetic field model predicts the opposite that the highest order mode will travel quicker. However, the overall effect is still the same if a signal is sent down the fiber as several modes then as it travels along the fibre the pulse will spread out (this process is known as modal dispersion); this can lead to the pulses merging and becoming indistinguishable. One further classification of rays can be made; meridional rays pass through the fiber axis; skew rays (hybrid rays) constantly rotate without passing through the fiber axis.

One other significant point should be noted from the electromagnetic field model the evanescent field. The model predicts that the EM field does not suddenly drop to zero at the core-cladding boundary it instead decays as a negative exponential within the cladding (see figure 4). This is crucial for various technologies relating to fibers.

Figure 4 - The Electric Field Within The Fiber Cladding

This method of signal transmission has benefits in terms of security for the signal to be tapped the fiber must be broken (since effectively no energy escapes from the fiber) and this can easily be detected (when no signal reaches the other end of the fiber!). This is one of the many advantages of the medium.

4.The Development of Fiber

I shall consider the development of fiber in several sections rather than giving a general discussion of fiber properties. Two types of material are used to manufacture fibers glass and plastic. There are several properties of a material that dictate how useful it is as a fiber:

Purity Refractive Index (wavelength-dependent) Attenuation (wavelength-dependent)

We must remember that there are many different types of fiber and applications for fiber. The different properties of fibers can be combined to provide a suitable fiber for a particular job not all fibers will be applicable for every situation. The purity of the fiber will be reflected in both its attenuation properties (consider the scattering effect of an impurity particle) and its refractive index. The original breakthrough in reducing fiber attenuation was achieved by purifying the glass used to make the fibers. There are other intrinsic and extrinsic factors which contribute to the attenuation, such as absorption by OH- ions, absorption of infra-red radiation leading to molecular vibrations, leakage from the core (can be caused by Rayleigh Scattering and fiber curvature) and leaky modes. Curvature is important in fiber specification; again a more detailed analysis of the propagation of light through fibers is required to fully explain this, but essentially a small amount of the light is radiated as the fiber bends. Leaky modes are modes slightly below the cut-off, but can be propagated for a short distance along the fiber; they can be initially avoided at the light source by restricting the angle at which light enters the fiber, but can be introduced along the fiber by microbending. Microbends are minute bends in the fiber which can be introduced during manufacture or cabling (see later for more detail on cabling); they can cause power to be transferred between modes, possibly to leaky modes and hence can result in power loss. The level of attenuation must clearly be minimized to increase the distance the signal can travel along a fiber without amplification. An example plot of how attenuation varies with wavelength is given in figure 5. The two types of fiber noted (Single-Mode and Graded-Index) will be explained further through this essay. The units dB are logarithmic. It indicates how we choose the most appropriate









Figure 5 - Wavelength Dependence of Fiber Attenuation (source: TestMark Laboratories)

The two attenuation minima (shown by the dashed lines) are approximately at lambda=1300nm and lambda=1550nm, and hence these two wavelengths are the most commonly used amongst modern fiber systems. The refractive index of the material is crucial to total internal reflection. A single-mode fiber has essentially a discontinuity in refractive index at the core-cladding boundary (although a rigorous analysis of such a fiber should consider that during the manufacturing process there is some blurring of the index over a very short distance (~10^-9 m)). As mentioned earlier, various modes can pass through an optical fiber; the number of modes that can pass through a fiber can be shown to be dependent on the diameter of the fiber. The diameter of the fiber can be reduced such that only one mode can exist within the fiber this removes the problem of modal dispersion and hence allows significantly higher bandwidths than would otherwise be available. The alternative type of fiber is multi-mode. This, as it sounds, allows the existence of various modes. This initially led to modal dispersion problems, and so was used for short distances (~500m) where dispersion was not relevant. An alternative solution to the problem was later found graded-index fiber, where there is a gradual gradient of refractive index through the core which peaks in the centre (in reality this is a series of gradually changing refractive indices typically with around 200 different values). This causes the paths of the various modes to be sinusoidal and can be used to ensure that the different modes travel along the fiber with a similar effective velocity. This considerably reduces the modal dispersion to values of the order of 1ns per km (the pulse width increases by 1ns every km) (TestMark Laboratories, 1999). There are other types of dispersion:

Polarisation Mode Dispersion can be understood by considering a wave to consist of a horizontal and a vertical component in anything but a perfect fiber the two polarisations will be transmitted at different speeds resulting in dispersion;

Chromatic Dispersion is the sum of Material Dispersion (due to the wavelength dependency of refractive index and the fact that no light source emits perfectly at a single wavelength) and Waveguide Dispersion (due to the wavelength dependency of the group velocity of a pulse and again the imperfect nature of light sources). These fortunately can cancel out for step-index

single-mode fibers this canceling occurs at a wavelength of approximately 1300nm (very close to the attenuation minimum). There has also been development of polarisation-sensitive fibers, of which there are two principle types. A polarisation-sensitive fiber will transmit light of one linear polarisation but not the other. A polarisation maintaining fiber is birefringent; it effectively isolates the two components of the light and transmits them individually (due to different properties of the fiber for different linear polarisations); thus the emerging light has the same polarisation as the incident light. With the constantly increasing demand for data bandwidth, fiber designers are continually looking for ways to increase the bandwidth of a single fiber. All high-bandwidth long-distance fibers are singlemode, and so there is no modal dispersion to reduce bandwidth. Further developments are always sought though the most recent of these is DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing). This allows multiple light sources (each operating at a different wavelength) to transmit data down a single fiber. Currently 4, 8, 16 or 32 wavelengths can be multiplexed on a fiber, with 64- and 128-channel systems in development. It is also reported that multiplexing of over 200 wavelengths on one fiber has been demonstrated by manufacturers. The various factors mentioned above (attenuation and various forms of dispersion) require the use of repeaters. This term, although widely used, is unclear. It is used to describe both optical repeaters and regenerators. Optical repeaters are purely optical devices that are used simply to combat attenuation in the fiber; typically spans of 80km upwards are now possible. The recent introduction of soliton transmission methods has increased the allowed distance between repeaters and systems spanning 130km without a repeater are now possible. Regenerators are devices consisting of both electronic and optical components to provide 3R regeneration Retiming, Reshaping, Regeneration. Retiming and reshaping detect the digital signal that will be distorted and noisy (partly due to the optical repeaters), and recreate it as a clean signal (see figure 6). This clean signal is then regenerated (optically amplified) to be sent on. It should be noted that repeaters are purely optical devices whereas regenerators require optical-to-electrical (O/E) conversion and electrical-to-optical (E/O) conversion. The ultimate aim of many fiber system researchers is to create a purely optical network without electronics, which would maximize efficiency and performance. Many aspects of such a system are in place, but some still require the O/E and E/O conversion.

Figure 6 - A digital signal before (noisy and attenuated) and after regeneration The most common optical amplifier currently in use is the EDFA (Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier). These consist of a coil of fiber doped with the rare earth metal erbium. A laser diode (see later) pumps the erbium atoms to a high-energy state; when the signal reaches the doped fiber the energy of the erbium atoms is transferred to the signal, thus amplifying it. Cabling is the procedure of grouping fibers together with strength members (see below) and possibly other materials to produce a product that is ready for field use. The type of cable is dependent on the environment in which it will be used. It would not be possible within this short essay to comprehensively describe the types of cable applicable to every situation, but I shall endeavour to cover the majority of general environment categories. First, we must analyse the purpose of the various elements in a cable. Of course there is fiber to carry the data; there may be many fibers within an individual cable and a considerable amount of research is devoted to the finding the strongest and most efficient systems of organisation of various numbers of fiber within a cable. Strength members are used to add tensile strength to fibers; although fiber has a high tensile strength of its own, this has to be increased for many applications (e.g. submarine cables). One of the most common strength members is Kevlar which is a specialised material (manufactured by DuPont) consisting of long molecular chains produced from paraphenylene terephthalamide. It has a tensile strength significantly greater than high-tensile steel and has the advantage of being lighter than steel. Armour is used to protect the cable from pressure and rodents (most fiber literature, being USbased, mentions gophers as a primary cause of fiber failure!). The main properties that are required of fiber cables in various environments are:

Crush Resistance Degradation Resistance (from temperature & moisture) Rigidity Stretch Resistance Stress Relief Waterproofing Microbending Resistance Auxiliary Elements (such as power for repeaters)

For example inside a computer of switching system (intra-device) the cable should be small with little protection as this is given by the unit in witch it is housed. Similarly for different environmental conditions the cable requires different types of protections. We should also consider fiber housing the structure that surrounds the fiber within the cable. There are two main designs loose-tube and tightly buffered. Loose-tube cable is where one or more fibers run in a loose helix through a tube allowing the fibers to move freely within the tube and protecting them from stresses that could cause microbending. There are different types and shapes of loose-tube cable, all of which isolate the fiber from external forces. For outdoor cables a gel is added which lubricates the fiber to aid it to move within the tube and to protect it from moisture. Tightly buffered fiber is directly encased within one or more layers of casing; the innermost layer is usually a soft plastic that will reduce the forces transferred to the fiber through the casing, whereas the outer layers are made from harder plastics to give added physical protection to the fiber. Loose-tube cables provide better physical protection and so are useful for preventing microbending loss. Tightly buffered fibers provide better crush-resistance and allow for more densely packed cables. It also makes automated joining easier for multi-fiber cables since the fiber positions are predictable with respect to the cable.

5.Light Sources
Two types of light source are used with fibers, LEDs and Laser Diodes. LEDs can operate in the near infrared (the main wavelengths used in fibers are 1300nm and 1550nm, along with 850nm for some

applications); they can emit light at 850nm and 1300nm. They also have the advantages of long lifetimes and being cheap. Unfortunately they are large compared to the cross-section of a fiber and so a large amount of light is lost in the coupling of an LED with a fiber. This also reduces the amount of modal control designers have over incident light. Laser diodes can be made to emit light at either 1300nm or 1550 nm, and also over a small spectral width (unlike LEDs), which reduces chromatic dispersion. Their emitting areas are extremely small (~0.4 micrometers x 1 micrometers) and so the angle of incidence of light on a fiber can be accurately controlled such that <5% of the possible modes within a multimode fiber will be initially used (although microbending can shift energy between modes and so the number of modes used may increase along a length of fiber). They are more efficient than LEDs in terms of coupling of light into the fiber, although they have shorter lifetimes than and are more expensive than LEDs. One crucial advantage of lasers over LEDs in todays world of digital communications is their high switching speed and small rise times (rise time is the time taken for power to rise from 10% to 90% of the maximum power of the pulse, fall time is the opposite), leading to increased bandwidth.

6.Detecting the Signal

The most efficient detectors are reverse-bias photo detectors. A full analysis of these requires an indepth understanding of semiconductor physics and so is not appropriate here. They essentially cause a current to flow when light is incident on them. The choice of semiconductor that is used to fabricate the detector is dependent on the wavelength sensitivity and the responsivity (effectively proportional to quantum efficiency) that are required. Bandwidth considerations are also important (determined by the rise time and fall time of a detector); in detectors the fall time is often appreciably greater than the rise time and so this must be used to calculate the bandwidth of a detector. There are many further complications in detectors, including noise equivalent power that indicates how clean a signal from a detector is. An analysis of how analogue and digital signals are processed after the initial detector is also interesting, but not within the scope of this essay.

7.Whats Happening Now?

The best way to describe the current technology being deployed is to provide a brief case study of a company that extensively uses optical fibers. I have chosen Energies PLC, a British Company that is currently expanding its network throughout Europe. Their network exclusively uses single-mode optical fibers. Partly due to their commercial history a large number of their fiber cables are installed on lines belonging to the National Grid Company and to some regional electricity companies. They also use cables buried in ducts under roads and pavements. They use DWDM (some uni-directional and some bi-directional) with 10Gbit/sec on each of 4 wavelengths. They are currently introducing 32 wavelength systems, and will inevitably introduce 40 Gbit/sec-per-wavelength systems in the near future. Their optical repeaters (for which they use EDFAs) are typically spaced at around 80km and their regenerators can be up to 600km apart, although this is partially dependent on previous repeater locations. New technologies that are emerging will theoretically increase the regenerator spacing to 5000km (and even further with the introduction of soliton transmission), although DWDM does reduce the allowed distance between amplifiers and regenerators.

8.Limitations of Fibers
Initially the major limitations of fibers were (as with any new technology) due to technological problems and high cost. Current high levels of production of fiber have reduced the cost of fiber itself and wide implementation has led to reductions in the cost of related processes such as splicing (as it has become a less specialised task). Splitting the signal currently requires an O/E and then several E/O conversions. With the development of optical technologies there is now a clear possibility of a totally optical network that would remove such problems. Dispersion is clearly the major limitation on bandwidth and counteracting it requires the added cost of more regenerators. Again, current research is increasing the distance between repeaters to extreme limits, requiring regenerators only at fiber ends for most applications (even for links such as those spanning the Atlantic Ocean).

1.Wide band width: - Potential use upto 1000 GHz. 2.Sensor applications: - Pressure, temperature, angle, strain etc. 3. Image guide applications: -Fiber scopes, image guides. 4.Prefered medium for nuclear: -Power, industrial and medical applications. 5.Used in defence, railways, power sector, telecom and data communication.

We are currently in the middle of a rapid increase in the demand for data bandwidth across the Earth. For most applications optical fibers are the primary solution to this problem. They have potentially a very high bandwidth, with many of the bandwidth limitations now being at the transceivers rather than being an intrinsic property of the fiber allowing easy upgrading of systems without relaying cable. The price has decreased significantly so that even over short distances fibers in the long term can compete with (for example) Category 5 twisted pair cable. This is creating a surge in the deployment of fiber both in backbones of networks and in topologically horizontal cabling, which in turn is supporting and propelling the industry into further research. With the adoption of new techniques such as DWDM, soliton transmission, and ultimately the purely optical network, we have a medium that will satisfy our communication needs for the foreseeable future.


Senior, J. M., 1985, Optical Fiber Communications, Prentice Hall International Adams and Henning, 1990, Optical Fibers And Sources For Communications, Plenum Press Andonovic and Uttamchandani, 1989, Principles Of Modern Optical Systems, Artech House Adams, M. J., 1981, An Introduction to Optical Waveguides, John Wiley & Sons