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UNDERSTANDING

LAUNCH CONDITIONS FOR

092 APPLICATION
NOTE
MULTIMODE CONNECTOR AND
CABLE-ASSEMBLY TESTING

Mario Simard, Eng., Product Manager


Michael Carlson, Eng., Senior Product Manager
François Babin, Ph.D., Research Scientist
Martin Tremblay, M. Sc. Optical Design Specialist

Introduction
Mostly due to optical Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet for short- to medium-distance LAN and datacom applications, the installation
of multimode fiber has become a strong trend that will continue to grow. Serving as premise and campus backbones, many of these
installations are also bringing fiber to the desk. In addition to the traditional Ethernet applications for businesses and institutions, similar
technologies are being used in military, aerospace and industrial control systems. The relatively low cost of the system components, as well
as the easy installation and maintainability of multimode fiber networks are the driving forces behind their rising popularity.

To address evolving market requirements, fiber manufacturers have developed new generations of their multimode fibers. These tuned fibers
have an index profile that enables the systems to support higher data rates over longer distances. In addition, vertical-cavity surface-emitting
laser (VCSEL) diodes have replaced LEDs because of their more affordable price (when compared to traditional lasers) and their fast rise/fall
times, which are necessary to support high data rates. Also, fiber-optic interconnect and cable-assembly manufacturers are building a vast
array of products using the new high-density multifiber ribbon connectors and small form-factor duplex connectors.

All these changes have affected the way the light is coupled and transmitted through the fiber, raising an important question: "What is the
best way to test the insertion loss (IL) of multimode connectors and cable assemblies?" The answer is complex and involves many parameters.

This application note will address the main problems and solutions related to IL testing of multimode connectors, helping you select the best
possible testing conditions to suit your needs.

Multimode Fiber Transmission


Since our topic is centered on the insertion loss of multimode connectors, it is worthwhile reviewing how light is transmitted through
multimode fiber.

In a multimode fiber, there are many possible optical paths for the light to travel through; these paths are referred to as modes. All modes are
not equal as they have different propagating characteristics and different sensitivities to external perturbations, such as bends and splices.
The lower (low-order) modes are excited by launching light near the central axis of the fiber, and are also often called tightly coupled modes.
In the highest-order modes, also called loosely coupled modes, a significant part of their power is located close to or even in the cladding.
For these very-high-order modes, losses are usually high, even for a bend radius of a few centimeters. For graded-index fiber with a 50 or
62.5 µm core, a few turns around a mandrel with a radius of 1 to 1.5 cm, called a mode filter, filters out these higher-loss modes. When there
is a fiber-to-fiber connection, a splice or other interface, it is these higher order modes that will be attenuated the most. Once in the cladding,
light is coupled out through "mode stripping". Light coupled into any specific mode will transfer to another mode only through what is called
"mode scrambling". This scrambling can be generated by microbends, splices, connectors and the like. It is important to understand that mode
filters are not mode scramblers. For additional information on mode scrambling, please refer to TIA/EIA-455-54B.

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Core

Loosely
coupled modes...

Cladding "modes"

Tightly coupled modes Fiber bands


will generate
loss of loosely
Cladding coupled modes.
Overfilled LED
source

Figure 1 –
Loosely
coupled modes (high-order modes) are often attenuated at bends, connections and splices.

When light from an optical source (surface or edge-emitting LED, laser, VCSEL, light from another fiber, etc.) is coupled into a multimode
fiber, the light launch conditions determine which modes will be excited or "filled" and to what extent. There are two parameters that are used
for determining filling conditions: mode-field diameter (MFD) and numerical aperture (NA). These two parameters are defined in the related
standards (TIA/EIA-455-58A and TIA/EIA-455-177A for example) along with the measurement procedures to determine their values
(TIA/EIA-455-43 and TIA/EIA-455-47B).

When the optical source and coupling optics are such that the light is launched onto a surface larger than the MFD and/or in a numerical
aperture larger than the NA of the fiber, the launching is termed "overfilled". Similarly, when only 70% of both the MFD and NA are filled, the
condition is called 70/70 and the fiber is "underfilled". Clearly, when using laser sources (or, for example, LEDs spatially filtered with a
singlemode fiber), the light launch conditions could be significantly underfilled. When you have an overfilled fiber, it means that a large portion
of the power is launched into the high-order modes. If you measure the connector loss under this condition, you will likely obtain a conservative
result (i.e., higher measured loss) than a test with underfilled launch conditions. On the other hand, if you test with a restricted or significantly
underfilled launch, the test results will be overly optimistic (very low loss) and we may not be able identify any defective connectors.

Transmitters and Light Sources


The type of light source used and the way it is coupled to the fiber will have overfilled
a huge impact on the launch conditions. Generally speaking, surface-
LED
emitting LED sources have a wide angle and a relatively large surface of
emission; meaning that the high-order modes will generally be excited or
filled. Laser sources have a narrower NA and emission surface; therefore,
higher-order modes in the fiber would not be significantly filled. The laser will Underfilled
be preferentially coupled to a small group of modes, usually close to the
center of the fiber. Unless additional launch conditioning is used, testing IL VCSEL

with a laser light source could give misleading results.

For example, if the connector ferrule is misaligned, you could still have a low Underfilled

insertion loss and wrongly indicate that the connector has passed the test. Laser
However, with different launch conditions, the device may create
unacceptable power loss.
Figure 2 – Typical launch conditions from commonly
used light sources.

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In some of the Gigabit Ethernet transmission systems (namely those using installed fiber-plant), a mode-conditioning launch fiber is sometimes
recommended. This mode conditioner launches the laser beam in underfilling conditions into the multimode fiber at a lateral offset from the
core center. This is done to reduce the differential mode delay (DMD) that is sometimes caused by the fiber index profile at the core center.
This offset launch may excite some higher-order modes.

There are a number of terms currently used to describe the mode-power distribution in a multimode fiber. The following paragraphs provide
some definitions as well as some test and measurement techniques that you can use.

Coupled-Power Ratio
Coupled-power ratio (CPR) is a qualitative measurement that is commonly used to describe the mode-power distribution (MPD) in multimode
fibers. It is the ratio of the total power out of a multimode fiber to the power measured when a singlemode fiber is coupled to the multimode
fiber. The CPR is often used to evaluate the launch conditions of transmitters and light sources into multimode fibers and is used in some
standards for establishing attenuation measurement criteria for installed fiber plants.

CPR is easy to measure and the details are provided in the TIA/EIA Standard OFSTP-14, Optical Power Loss Measurements of Installed
Multimode Fiber Cable Plant, TIA/EIA-526-14A, Annex A. A higher CPR means that there is high loss when coupled into the singlemode fiber
and indicates a more fully filled launch. A low CPR indicates restricted launch conditions corresponding to under-filling of the fiber.

When measuring CPR, it is important to use singlemode fibers at 850 and 1300 nm. These fibers will have a mode-field diameter of
approximately 9 µm at 1300 nm and 5 µm at 850 nm.

Multimode Cable Multimode Cable


Singlemode Cable

Source Power Source Power


Meter Meter

Reference Power = P0 (dBm) Measured Power = P1 (dBm)

CPR = P0-P1 (dB)

Figure 3 – Setup for measuring coupled-power ratio (CPR).

The TIA/EIA-526-14A standard has identified five categories for 50 µm and 62.5 µm fiber at 850 nm and 1300 nm. The tables below show
a summary. For detailed information concerning the five categories, refer to TIA/EIA-526-14A.

Fiber Size Categories Categories


1 to 3 4 and 5
(CPR) (CPR)

50/125 11-24 0-10.9


62.5/125 14-29 0-13.9
Table 1. Light source CPR values (in dB) for 850 nm.

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Fiber Size Categories Categories


1 to 3 4 and 5
(CPR) (CPR)

50/125 8-20 0-7.9


62.5/125 12-25 0-11.9
Table 2. Light source CPR values (in dB) for 1300 nm.

The CPR will have an effect on IL measurements. With a Category 5 source, which is very under-filled, The IL results on your cable assembly
will be highly optimistic; the assembly may seem to have very low loss. If you have an overfilled condition, which is Category 1, your results
will be conservative.

Connector Loss vs. Light


Source CPR

Figure 4 (courtesy of Gair Brown, NAVSEA) – Connector loss due to a lateral offset of nominal 1 dB vs. different light-source CPRs.

Connector Loss vs. Light


Source CPR

Figure 5 (courtesy of Gair Brown, NAVSEA) – Connector loss due to a longitudinal separation of nominal
1 dB vs. different light-source CPRs.

In the data shown above, results are displayed for tests on two different connector assemblies that have been misaligned to generate a known
theoretical loss. Figure 4 shows data for a 1 dB lateral offset connector, and Figure 5 shows data for a 1 dB longitudinal separation. For the
1 dB longitudinal separation test, we can clearly see the expected trend; i.e., an increase in the measured loss as the CPR increases. The
same general trend is true for the 1 dB lateral offset connector, however, it is not quite as clear as we may have expected. For the lateral offset
sample, we measured from ~0.1dB to ~1.1 dB, depending on the CPR of the light source used! In these tests, performed in accordance with
TIA-455-34, the opposite end of the cable assembly under test was connected directly to a power meter.

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In another test, the cable assemblies were tested in accordance with TIA-526-14 method B. Two master test jumpers were used; one
connected to the source and the other connected to the power meter, with the cable assembly under test connected in between. Data for a
nominal 1.4 dB loss cable assembly is shown in the following graph.

Cable Assembly Loss vs. CPR

Figure 6 (courtesy of Gair Brown, NAVSEA) – Cable assembly loss (nominal 1 dB) vs. different light-source CPRs.

In this example, the normal expected trend is visible, but we also observe that two different sources with very similar Category 1 CPR give
significantly different results. This would lead us to believe that even though the CPR is the same, the mode-power distribution for these
sources appears to be different.

In the source that shows higher-than-expected loss, it was found that there was excessive power in the high-order modes. In the source that
showed lower-than-expected loss, there was almost no high-order mode power and, in fact, showed an unusual mode-power distribution.

High-Order Mode Power (HOMP)


There is a simple test that can be performed to measure the high-order mode power. Excessive HOMP is not really a problem as it can be
eliminated by using a mode filter. In fact, use of a mode filter is highly recommended and often a requirement in accordance with the standard
being followed. However, little or no HOMP may be indicative of a poor source for Category 1 or Category 2 testing, in which case additional
mode scrambling or conditioning should be used. Often, a length of step-index multimode fiber will help to condition the mode-power
distribution.

Multimode Fiber Mandrel Diameter for Bare Fiber


50 µm 25 mm (1.0 in)
62.5 µm 20 mm (0.8 in)
Table 3. Mandrel diameter for bare-fiber mode filters in TIA/EIA-455-34.

As a qualitative evaluation of the HOMP, you can measure the power (dB) with and without a mode filter; the difference being the HOMP.
The diameter of the mandrel tool should be equal to the bare-fiber diameter mandrel minus the jacket diameter. For example, the mandrel tool
for a 50 µm fiber with a 3 mm jacket should be 22 mm.

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Multimode Cable Multimode Cable


5 Mandrel wraps

Source Power Source Power


Meter Meter

Reference Power = P0 (dBm) Reference Power = P1 (dBm)

HOMP = P0-P1 (dB)

Figure 7 – Setup for measuring high-order mode power (HOMP).

Steady-State and Equilibrium Mode Distribution (EMD)


EMD is the mode distribution obtained after going through a system, or part of a system, with so much mode mixing that the output mode
distribution is unaffected by the input mode distribution, be it overfilled or largely underfilled. In practice, this situation is very seldom met.

A more important concept is that of steady-state mode distribution. Steady-state distribution is reached when the mode distribution no longer
changes along the fiber or fiber system. The steady state will depend on launch conditions. When the launching condition is overfilled (for
example, a Category 1 LED), the higher-order modes will gradually be filtered out along the fiber and reach the maximum steady-state mode
distribution. Launch conditions that produce a more restricted mode distribution than the maximum mode distribution will usually be steady
state distributions, except when strong mode coupling occurs. Once steady state is attained, the transfer of energy between modes will stop
unless there is a defect in the fiber, splice, connector or other component that induces mode coupling.

100% Graded-index Fiber


NA
70%
NA

Core
Spot Diameter = 70%
of Core Diameter

Figure 8 – Graphical representation of 70/70 launch conditions

Historically, 70/70 launch conditions were recommended as a suitable approximation of EMD. However, as multimode fibers and transmitters
have evolved considerably, this is no longer the case. Remember that the launch conditions are such that the input beam diameter is 70% of
the nominal mode-field diameter of the fiber, and the input NA is 70% of the nominal NA of the fiber. This was initially intended for spectral
loss measurements of multimode fibers, but has also been used for measuring connectors and components.

For obvious reasons, this practice came to be known as 70/70 launch conditions. Because it is difficult to measure the mode-power
distribution and geometry (also requires costly instrumentation), and because 70/70 launch conditions have no technical correlation to
modern-day multimode optical fiber systems, 70/70 launch requirements are not specified for connector testing.

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IQS-12001B Cable Assembly Test System


One question often arises: Why do we obtain different IL measurements for the same device on different test equipment? The answers could
be numerous, but before even attempting to understand why the measurements are different, it is very important to verify that the launch
conditions are similar for the different instruments.

In EXFO’s IQS-12001B Cable Assembly Test System (CATS), the launch conditions of each system are controlled and verified during
production. CPR and HOMP are measured in order to ensure that all systems fall into the desired range. With this quality assurance, it is
possible to attain measurement reproducibility of ± 0.05 dB with the IQS-12001B (between different systems).

50 µm 62.5 µm
850 nm 1300 nm 850 nm 1300 nm
CPR (dB) 20-22 17-18 23.5-24.5 20.5-21
HOMP (dB) 1.1-1.3 1.3-1.6 0.25-0.35 0.25-0.45

Table 4. CPR and HOMP values (dB) of the IQS-12001B

With the IQS-12001B system, we have targeted overfilled launch conditions. When used with the recommended HOMP mode filters,
it provides a reliable and consistent test configuration designed to identify bad connector assemblies and yet minimize false failures. The
IQS-3250 Loss Test Module provides these launch conditions for both 62.5/125 µm and 50/125 µm fiber using the same module. If desired,
more restrictive launch conditions can be attained.

Conclusion
In the end, the customers and end users will specify the launch conditions. Military, aerospace and industrial applications will most likely
require Category 1 testing, as there is no room for failure. For other less critical and cost-sensitive applications, requirements will vary from
Category 1 to Category 3. It is important to understand some of the concepts involved and to use reliable test equipment that provides known
and reproducible launch conditions, to obtain the best possible results.

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References
TIA/EIA-455-34A FOTP-34, Interconnection Device Insertion Loss Test
TIA/EIA-455-43A FOTP 43, Output Near Field Radiation Pattern Measurement of Optical Waveguide Fibers
TIA/EIA-455-47B FOTP 47, Output Far Field Radiation Pattern Measurement of Optical Waveguide Fibers
TIA/EIA-455-50A FOTP-50, Light Launch Conditions for Long-Length Graded-Index Optical Fiber Spectral Attenuation Measurements.
TIA/EIA-455-58A FOTP-58, Core Diameter Measurement of Graded-Index Optical Fibers
TIA/EIA-455-171 FOTP-171, Attenuation by Substitution Measurement for Short-Length Multimode Graded-Index and Single-Mode
Optical Fiber Cable Assemblies
TIA/EIA-455-177A FOTP-177, Numerical Aperture Measurement of Graded-Index Optical Fibers
TIA/EIA-526-14A OFSTP-14, Optical Power Loss Measurements of Installed Multimode Fiber Cable Plant.
TIA/EIA-568-A Commercial Building, Telecommunications Cabling Standard
IEC 61300-3-4- Basic test and measurement procedures- Part 3-4: Examinations and measurements-Attenuation
IEC 61300-3-34- Fiber optic interconnecting devices and passive components-Basic test and measurement procedures- Part 3-34:
Examinations and measurements- Attenuation of random mated connectors

Special Acknowledgements
EXFO would like to thank Mr. Gair Brown, NAVSEA, for sharing some of his test results and for his significant contribution in this field.

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Appnote092.2AN © 2005 EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada 05/02