Operating Wavelengths in Fiber Optic Communication

Often called as operating windows, Fiber optic communication systems use different wavelength ranges for transmission of data. The selection of wavelength from the spectrum of light depends on many factors like the availability and cost of Light sources and other optical components, application etc. Multimode fibers operate in the 850nm and the 1300nm. Single mode fibers operate at 1310nm, 1550nm and 1625nm. The initial single mode fibers  used 1310nm. Semiconductor sources are designed to operate at wavelengths that minimize optical 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 optical 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 take full 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’s very low value of dispersion. Additionally, LEDs and LDs operating at 1550 nm were developed to take advantage of the fiber’s lowest loss.


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