Dispersion in Fiber Optics

There are two different types of dispersion in optical fibers.

The types are intramodal and intermodal dispersion. Intramodal, or chromatic, dispersion occurs in all types of fibers. Intermodal, or modal, dispersion occurs only in multimode fibers. Each type of dispersion mechanism leads to pulse spreading.

As a pulse spreads, energy is overlapped. This condition is shown in the picture below. The spreading of the optical pulse as it travels along the fiber limits the information capacity of the fiber.


Intramodal Dispersion

Intramodal, or chromatic, dispersion depends primarily on fiber materials. There are two types of intramodal dispersion. The first type is material dispersion. The second type is waveguide dispersion.

Intramodal dispersion occurs because different colors of light travel through different materials and different waveguide structures at different speeds.

Material dispersion occurs because the spreading of a light pulse is dependent on the wavelengths' interaction with the refractive index of the fiber core. Different wavelengths travel at different speeds in the fiber material. Different wavelengths of a light pulse that enter a fiber at one time exit the fiber at different times. Material dispersion is a function of the source spectral width. The spectral width specifies the range of wavelengths that can propagate in the fiber. Material dispersion is less at longer wavelengths.

Waveguide dispersion occurs because the mode propagation constant (beta) is a function of the size of the fiber's core relative to the wavelength of operation. Waveguide dispersion also occurs because light propagates differently in the core than in the cladding.

In multimode fibers, waveguide dispersion and material dispersion are basically separate properties. Multimode waveguide dispersion is generally small compared to material dispersion. Waveguide dispersion is usually neglected.

However, in single mode fibers, material and waveguide dispersion are interrelated.

The total dispersion present in single mode fibers may be minimized by trading material and waveguide properties depending on the wavelength of operation.

Intermodal Dispersion

Intermodal or modal dispersion causes the input light pulse to spread. The input light pulse is made up of a group of modes. As the modes propagate along the fiber, light energy distributed among the modes is delayed by different amounts. The pulse spreads because each mode propagates along the fiber at different speeds. Since modes travel in different directions, some modes travel longer distances.

Modal dispersion occurs because each mode travels a different distance over the same time span, as shown in the picture below. The modes of a light pulse that enter the fiber at one time exit the fiber a different times. This condition causes the light pulse to spread. As the length of the fiber increases, modal dispersion increases.

Distance traveled by each mode over the same time span.

Modal dispersion is the dominant source of dispersion in multimode fibers. Modal dispersion does not exist in single mode fibers. Single mode fibers propagate only the fundamental mode. Therefore, single mode fibers exhibit the lowest amount of total dispersion. Single mode fibers also exhibit the highest possible bandwidth.

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