Scattering in Fiber Optics

Basically, scattering losses are caused by the interaction of light with density fluctuations within a fiber. Density changes are produced when optical fibers are manufactured.

During manufacturing, regions of higher and lower molecular density areas, relative to the average density of the fiber, are created. Light traveling through the fiber interacts with the density areas as shown in the picture below. Light is then partially scattered in all directions.



In commercial fibers operating between 700-nm and 1600-nm wavelength, the main source of loss is called Rayleigh scattering. Rayleigh scattering is the main loss mechanism between the ultraviolet and infrared regions as shown in the picture above. Rayleigh scattering occurs when the size of the density fluctuation (fiber defect) is less than one-tenth of the operating wavelength of light. Loss caused by Rayleigh scattering is proportional to the fourth power of the wavelength (1/lambda4). As the wavelength increases, the loss caused by Rayleigh scattering decreases.

If the size of the defect is greater than one-tenth of the wavelength of light, the scattering mechanism is called Mie scattering. Mie scattering, caused by these large defects in the fiber core, scatters light out of the fiber core. However, in commercial fibers, the effects of Mie scattering are insignificant. Optical fibers are manufactured with very few large defects.


Bending the fiber also causes attenuation. Bending loss is classified according to the bend radius of curvature: microbend loss or macrobend loss.

Microbends are small microscopic bends of the fiber axis that occur mainly when a fiber is cabled. Macrobends are bends having a large radius of curvature relative to the fiber diameter. Microbend and macrobend losses are very important loss mechanisms. Fiber loss caused by microbending can still occur even if the fiber is cabled correctly. During installation, if fibers are bent too sharply, macrobend losses will occur.

Microbend losses are caused by small discontinuities or imperfections in the fiber. Uneven coating applications and improper cabling procedures increase microbend loss. External forces are also a source of microbends. An external force deforms the cabled jacket surrounding the fiber but causes only a small bend in the fiber. Microbends change the path that propagating modes take, as shown in the picture below. Microbend loss increases attenuation because low-order modes become coupled with high-order modes that are naturally lossy.



Macrobend losses are observed when a fiber bend's radius of curvature is large compared to the fiber diameter.

These bends become a great source of loss when the radius of curvature is less than several centimeters. Light propagating at the inner side of the bend travels a shorter distance than that on the outer side. To maintain the phase of the light wave, the mode phase velocity must increase. When the fiber bend is less than some critical radius, the mode phase velocity must increase to a speed greater than the speed of light. However, it is impossible to exceed the speed of light. This condition causes some of the light within the fiber to be converted to high-order modes. These high-order modes are then lost or radiated out of the fiber.

Fiber sensitivity to bending losses can be reduced. If the refractive index of the core is increased, then fiber sensitivity decreases. Sensitivity also decreases as the diameter of the overall fiber increases. However, increases in the fiber core diameter increase fiber sensitivity. Fibers with larger core size propagate more modes. These additional modes tend to be more lossy.

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