Optical Sources


Section 1 taught you that a fiber optic data link has three basic functions. One function is that a fiber optic data link must convert an electrical signal to an optical signal permitting the transfer of data along an optical fiber. The fiber optic device responsible for that signal conversion is a fiber optic transmitter.

A fiber optic transmitter is a hybrid device. It converts electrical signals into optical signals and launches the optical signals into an optical fiber. A fiber optic transmitter consists of an interface circuit, a source drive circuit, and optical sources . The interface circuit accepts the incoming electrical signal and processes it to make it compatible with the source drive circuit. The source drive circuit intensity modulates the optical source by varying the current through the source.

An optical-source converts electrical energy (current) into optical energy (light). Light emitted by an optical-source is launched, or coupled, into an optical fiber for transmission. Fiber optic data link performance depends on the amount of optical power (light) launched into the optical fiber. This section attempts to provide an understanding of light-generating mechanisms within the main types of optical sources used in fiber optics.


The development of efficient semiconductor optical-sources, along with low-loss optical fibers, led to substantial improvements in fiber optic communications. Semiconductor optical-sources have the physical characteristics and performance properties necessary for successful implementations of fiber optic systems. It is desirable that optical-sources:

· Be compatible in size to low-loss optical fibers by having a small light-emitting area capable of launching light into fiber

· Launch sufficient optical power into the optical fiber to overcome fiber attenuation and connection losses allowing for signal detection at the receiver

· Emit light at wavelengths that minimize optical fiber loss and dispersion. Optical sources should have a narrow spectral width to minimize dispersion

· Allow for direct modulation of optical output power

· Maintain stable operation in changing environmental conditions (such as temperature)

· Cost less and be more reliable than electrical devices, permitting fiber optic communication systems to compete with conventional systems

Semiconductor optical sources suitable for fiber optic systems range from inexpensive light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to more expensive semiconductor lasers. Semiconductor LEDs and laser diodes (LDs) are the principal light sources used in fiber optics.


Fiber optic communication systems operate in the 850-nm, the 1300-nm, and the 1550-nm wavelength windows. Semiconductor sources are designed to operate at wavelengths that minimizeoptical fiber absorption and maximize system bandwidth. By designing an optical source to operate at specific wavelengths, absorption from impurities in the optical fiber, such as hydroxyl ions (OH-), can be minimized. Maximizing system bandwidth involves designing optical fibers and sources that minimize chromatic and intermodal dispersion at the intended operational wavelength.

Initially, the material properties of semiconductor sources provided for optical emission in the 850-nm wavelength region. An 850-nm operational wavelength avoids fiber absorption loss from OH impurities near the 900-nm wavelength. Light sources for 850-nm systems were originally semiconductor LEDs and lasers. Currently, most 850-nm systems use LEDs as a light source. LEDs operating at 850-nm provide sufficient optical power for short-distance, low-bandwidth systems. However, multimode fiber dispersion, the relatively high fiber attenuation, and the LED's relatively low optical output power prevent the use of these devices in longer-distance, higher bandwidth systems.

The first development allowing the operational wavelength to move from 850 nm to 1300 nm was the introduction of multimode graded-index fibers. Multimode graded-index fibers have substantially lower intermodal dispersion than multimode step-index fibers. Systems operating at 850 nm cannot takefull advantage of the fiber's low intermodal dispersion because of high chromatic dispersion at 850 nm. However, the use of multimode graded-index fibers allow 850-nm LEDs to operate satisfactorily in short-distance, higher bandwidth systems.

Following the enhancements in multimode fiber design, next generation LEDs were designed to provide optical emission in the 1300-nm region. Multimode graded-index fiber systems using these LEDs can operate over longer distances and at higher bandwidths than 850-nm systems. Longer distances and higher bandwidths are possible because fiber material losses and dispersion are significantly reduced at the 1300-nm region.

Advances in single mode fiber design and construction sped the development of semiconductor LEDs and LDs optimized for single mode fibers. Single mode fibers have very low dispersion values.However, existing LEDs were unable to focus and launch sufficient optical power into single mode fibers for long-haul, very high-bandwidth communication systems. New semiconductor LEDs and LDs capable of operating with single mode fibers at 1300 nm were developed to take advantage of single mode fiber'svery low value of dispersion. Additionally, LEDs and LDs operating at 1550 nm were developed to take advantage of the fiber's lowest loss.

Semiconductor LEDs

Light Emitting Diodes

Laser and Superluminescent Diodes

Fiber Optic Transmitters

Fiberoptic Transmitter Packages

Fiberoptic System Topology

Link Classification

System Design

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