Optical fibers are connected to terminal equipment by optical fiber connectors. These connectors are usually of a standard type such as FC, SC, ST, LC, or MTRJ.
Optical fibers may be connected to each other by connectors or by splicing, that is, joining two fibers together to form a continuous optical waveguide. The generally accepted splicing method is arc fusion splicing, which melts the fiber ends together with an electric arc. For quicker fastening jobs, a “mechanical splice” is used.
Fusion splicing is done with a specialized instrument that typically operates as follows: The two cable ends are fastened inside a splice enclosure that will protect the splices, and the fiber ends are stripped of their protective polymer coating (as well as the more sturdy outer jacket, if present). The ends are cleaved (cut) with a precision cleaver to make them perpendicular, and are placed into special holders in the splicer. The splice is usually inspected via a magnified viewing screen to check the cleaves before and after the splice. The splicer uses small motors to align the end faces together, and emits a small spark between electrodes at the gap to burn off dust and moisture. Then the splicer generates a larger spark that raises the temperature above the melting point of the glass, fusing the ends together permanently. The location and energy of the spark is carefully controlled so that the molten core and cladding don’t mix, and this minimizes optical loss. A splice loss estimate is measured by the splicer, by directing light through the cladding on one side and measuring the light leaking from the cladding on the other side. A splice loss under 0.1 dB is typical. The complexity of this process makes fiber splicing much more difficult than splicing copper wire.
Mechanical fiber splices are designed to be quicker and easier to install, but there is still the need for stripping, careful cleaning and precision cleaving. The fiber ends are aligned and held together by a precision-made sleeve, often using a clear index-matching gel that enhances the transmission of light across the joint. Such joints typically have higher optical loss and are less robust than fusion splices, especially if the gel is used. All splicing techniques involve the use of an enclosure into which the splice is placed for protection afterward.
Fibers are terminated in connectors so that the fiber end is held at the end face precisely and securely. A fiber-optic connector is basically a rigid cylindrical barrel surrounded by a sleeve that holds the barrel in its mating socket. The mating mechanism can be “push and click”, “turn and latch” (“bayonet”), or screw-in (threaded). A typical connector is installed by preparing the fiber end and inserting it into the rear of the connector body. Quick-set adhesive is usually used so the fiber is held securely, and a strain relief is secured to the rear. Once the adhesive has set, the fiber’s end is polished to a mirror finish. Various polish profiles are used, depending on the type of fiber and the application. For single-mode fiber, the fiber ends are typically polished with a slight curvature, such that when the connectors are mated the fibers touch only at their cores. This is known as a “physical contact” (PC) polish. The curved surface may be polished at an angle, to make an “angled physical contact” (APC) connection. Such connections have higher loss than PC connections, but greatly reduced back reflection, because light that reflects from the angled surface leaks out of the fiber core; the resulting loss in signal strength is known as gap loss. APC fiber ends have low back reflection even when disconnected.