Coupling Loss in 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 opticalpower 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 coupling 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, Po 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. Forexample, 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 the picture below.

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, launchingoptical power is reduced to coupling light from one fiber to another. In fact, most fiber optic connections can be considered fiber-to-fiber.

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. n 0 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 totalfiber-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 specificoptical 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 connectionloss 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.

(back) (top) (next)