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Measuring Loss in Fiber Optics

Making a fiber optic signal transmission work requires that light loss is
kept to a minimum.


Determine: Fresnel Loss to 4 dB per kilometer (a 60 percent to 75 percent
 The type of fiber being used — either single mode or multimode.  Caused by reflection from the entrance and exit loss per kilometer).
 The operating wavelength of the transmitter used for the light source that’s transmitting into the fiber — usually surface of any fiber (connectors, splices, etc). Loss  At 1,310 nanometers, the loss drops to about 1 dB
850 nanometers, 1,310 nanometers, or 1,550 nanometers. is approximately 4 percent for each transition to 2 dB (50 percent to 60 percent) per kilometer.
between air and fiber.  At 1,550 nanometers, it is even lower. Premium
 Special coupling gels can be applied between glass fibers are available with loss figures of 3 dB
surfaces to reduce this loss. (50 percent) per kilometer at 850 nanometers and
MEASURING OPTICAL LOSS 1 dB (20 percent) per kilometer at 1,310 nanometers.
Tools You Need
Opaque Obstructions Losses of 0.5 dB (10 percent) per kilometer at
 Optical power meter
 Dirt or other foreign substances can obstruct the 1,550 nanometers are not uncommon.
 Light source to launch a beam of light into the fiber. This can be an existing fiber optic transmitter or a dedicated
fiber’s ability to pass light.
light source generator.
Excessive Bending
Transmission Loss  Causes some of the light to leave the fiber’s core area.
Step by Step
1. Set the power meter to the wavelength of the light source you are using.  Primarily the result of random scattering of light  The smaller the bend radius, the greater the loss.
2. Connect a short fiber jumper cable between the light source/transmitter and the power meter (Figure A). and absorption by actual impurities within the glass.  Bends along a fiber optic cable should have a
3. Make note of the power level, in dBm (“Reading A”).  At 850 nanometers, losses can be as high as 3 dB turning radius of 1 inch at minimum.
4. Connect the fiber cable under test to the output of the light source.
5. Connect the power meter, set at the same wavelength as the power source, to the far end of the fiber cable
under test (Figure B).
6. Make note of the power level, in dBm (“Reading B”). LOSS BUDGET
7. Calculate Optical Loss. Optical Loss = “Reading A” minus “Reading B.” Measured (in dB) by subtracting the receiver sensitivity from the transmitter power (launch power). The loss budget is
8. When multimode fiber is used, measurements should be made at 850 nanometers or 1,310 nanometers. It’s the total amount of loss possible from all sources (cable length, patches, etc.) between the transmitter and receiver.
best to make measurements at both wavelengths, if possible, because the optical loss can vary significantly as A hypothetical link and its corresponding loss budget.
the wavelength varies when multimode fiber is used.
Typical Source Variables Connector & Cable Variables Other Allowances
9. When single-mode fiber is used, measurements should be made at 1,310 nanometers because this is the most
common wavelength used with single-mode fiber. Launch Temp. Coupling Aging Path Fiber Temp. Coupling Repair, Splice,
10. Repeat for every fiber cable in the system. Power to Fiber Loss Loss Effect to Rx Safety Margin
-5 Cold
Typ. -10

–+ 2 dB –+ 2 dB –+ 2 dB –+ 1 dB

Launch -15

Power Worst -3 dB –+ 0 dB
-20 Hot -2 dB
-4 dB/km
-30 -3 dB
Figure A. Short fiber jumper cable
connected between the light source
Just a few dB of loss equates to a large percentage of light that’s wasted — which can negatively affect your
signal transmission.
Power Out Power Out
Loss as a % of Loss as a % of
dB Power In % of Power Lost Remarks dB Power In % of Power Lost Remarks

1 79.0% 21.0% — 13 5.0% 95.0% 1/20 the power

Figure B. Power meter, set at the 2 63.0% 37.0% — 14 4.0% 96.0% 1/25 the power
same wavelength as the power 1/2 the power 1/30 the power
3 50.0% 50.0% 15 3.2% 96.8%
source, connected to the far end of 1/40 the power
4 40.0% 60.0% — 16 2.5% 97.5%
the fiber cable.
5 32.0% 68.0% — 17 2.0% 98.0% 1/50 the power

6 25.0% 75.0% 1/4 the power 18 1.6% 98.4% 1/60 the power

7 20.0% 80.0% 1/5 the power 19 1.3% 98.7% 1/80 the power

8 16.0% 84.0% 1/6 the power 20 1.0% 99.0% 1/100 the power
A 3 dB loss means that 50 percent 9 12.0% 88.0% 1/8 the power 25 0.3% 99.7% 1/300 the power
10 10.0% 90.0% 1/10 the power 30 0.1% 99.9% 1/1,000 the power
of the light is lost, whether modulated 11 8.0% 92.0% 1/12 the power 40 0.01% 99.99% 1/10,000 the power
12 6.3% 93.7% 1/16 the power 50 0.0% 100.0% 1/100,000 the power
at 10 Hz or 100 MHz.

90 JANUARY 2008 | proavmagazine.com