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This article focuses on the parameters that affect available bandwidth in optical fibers, and the dispersion mechanisms of various fiber types and non-linear effects.  Dispersion describes the process of how an input signal broadens out as it travels down the fiber. There are several types of dispersions that we will cover. We’ll also take a cursory look at other important nonlinear effects that can reduce the amount of bandwidth that is ultimately available over an optical fiber.


Fiber Optic Dispersion Bandwidth Illustration

Most of the traffic traveling through fiber networks takes the form of a laser pulse, where the laser is pulsed on and off, effectively forming a digital square wave comprised of “1”s and “0”s. Dispersion causes a pulse to spread out over time, effectively rounding the edges, and making it harder for the detector to determine whether a “1” or a “0” is being transmitted. When this happens, the effective bandwidth of the link is reduced. The three main types of dispersion mechanisms are modal dispersion, chromatic dispersion, and polarization mode dispersion. Because these mechanisms affect fiber networks in different ways, we’ll discuss each in some depth. Please download the full article for more information.

Modal Dispersion

In general, our article on Single-Mode Optical Fiber Selection focuses on single-mode fibers since they comprise the vast majority of fiber kilometers deployed around the world. In contrast to multimode fibers, single-mode fibers are used for all high-capacity, long-distance networks due to their low attenuation and high bandwidth. A main limiting factor of multimode fibers is modal dispersion.

>> Download the full Article

Illustration of Modal dispersion in a multimode and single optical fibers

Multimode fibers carry multiple modes of light at the same time.  While a mode of light can be thought of as a ray of light, a typical multimode fiber can have up to 17 modes of light traveling along it at once. These modes all traverse slightly different paths through the fiber, with some path lengths longer than others. Modes that take a straighter path will arrive sooner, and modes that bounce along the outer edges of the core of the fiber take a longer path and arrive later. The effect on the end pulse is called modal dispersion, since it is due to the different modes in the fiber. Multimode fibers are designed to reduce the amount of modal dispersion with precise control of the index of refraction profile, through the quantity of dopants used in the core. However, it isn’t possible to completely eliminate modal dispersion in multimode fibers.

Chromatic Dispersion

Chromatic dispersion describes a combination of two separate types of dispersion, namely material dispersion and waveguide dispersion. Light travels at different speeds at different wavelengths, and all laser pulses are transmitted over a wavelength range. Light also travels at different speeds through different materials. These varying speeds cause pulses to either spread out or compress as they travel down the fiber. Fiber designers can use these two points to customize the index of refraction profile to produce fibers for different applications. Chromatic dispersion isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be used as a tool to help optimize network performance.

For example, the first lasers used for fiber transmission operated at 1310 nm, and many networks still use that wavelength. Fiber designers therefore developed the first single-mode fibers to have minimum or zero dispersion at this wavelength. In fact, G.652 fibers are still designed this way. In these fibers, dispersion is higher in the 1550 nm window.

Today’s networks often operate with multiple wavelengths running over them. In these networks, nonlinear effects that result from the multiple wavelengths can affect network operation. We’ll give a brief overview of some of these non-linear effects in this article. Chromatic dispersion is often used as a tool to help optimize these types of networks.

Polarization Mode Dispersion (PMD)

Light is an electromagnetic wave and is comprised of two polarizations that travel down the fiber at the same time. In a perfectly round fiber deployed with perfectly balanced external stresses, these polarizations would reach the end of the fiber at the same time. Of course, our world isn’t perfect. Even small amounts of glass ovality/non-concentricity or non-concentric stresses in the cable can cause one of the polarizations to travel faster than the other, spreading out in time as they travel along the fiber. This phenomenon is called polarization mode dispersion (PMD).

Polarization mode dispersion illustration- delay in two polarizations traveling down an optical fiber.

Cabling and installation affect PMD, and even things like vibration from trains moving down tracks or wind-induced aerial cable vibrations can affect PMD. However, the impacts of these interactions are typically smaller than the inherent PMD caused by the glass manufacturing process.

Manufacturing Caused of Polarization Mode Dispersion (PMD)

There are ways to mitigate PMD. One very effective method is to make the glass fiber as geometrically round and consistent as possible. OFS uses a special technique to accomplish this. Using a patented process called fiber “spinning”; half-twists are translated through the fiber during the draw process, reducing the non-concentricities and ovalities in the glass that are the major contributors to increased PMD.

PMD Chart

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Non-Linear Effects

There are a host of other factors that network, equipment, and fiber designers have needed to consider as network capabilities have grown over the years. These factors often result as we collectively add more and more wavelengths of traffic at greater speeds and higher power levels.

It is not the intent of this article to review each of these in depth, but instead to touch on them so the reader can have a passing familiarity. The highest profile of these factors is four-wave mixing, which led to the development of non-zero dispersion-shifted fibers (NZDF). However, other non-linear effects include self-phase modulation, cross-phase modulation, Raman and Brillouin scattering, and others. As mentioned earlier, chromatic dispersion can be used to offset the effects of four-wave mixing. For those non-linear effects related to higher power levels, increasing the effective area where the light travels down the fiber can help to reduce the impact of these other non-linear effects.

Dispersions and non-linear effects are the least understood issues in the general fiber user population, mainly because the guidelines used to match up today’s fibers and electronics typically work so that the end user doesn’t need to have a detailed background to bring up a system.

OFS has multiple decades of experience with fiber optic networks. Please contact your local OFS representative if you would like additional information regarding any of the items in this article.

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OFS is a market leader in the design and manufacture of standard and custom Dispersion Slope Compensating Modules (DSCMs) also known as Dispersion Compensating Modules (DCMs). Our fixed broadband, reconfigurable, and tunable colorless modules round out a product line that is well-suited for the major transmission fiber types.

FAQ Guide to Laser-Optimized Fiber

As transmission speeds over optical fiber networks in the enterprise increase to 10 Gigabits per second (Gb/s) and beyond, a relatively new term – “laser-optimized fiber” – has crept into the industry’s vocabulary. What is laser-optimized fiber? What do you need to know about it? And what exactly does the term “laser- optimized” mean? Understanding the answers to these questions will help you prepare for the latest wave in optical communications for enterprise networks.Laser Fiber

Why have optical fibers been “optimized” for use with lasers?

Older “legacy” optical fiber systems (Token Ring, Ethernet, FDDI, ATM) used in premises applications operated at relatively slow speeds in the range of 4 to 155 Megabits per second (Mb/s). These systems utilized inexpensive light sources called Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), which were perfectly adequate for these slower speeds. Multimode fibers used in these systems were rated to certain minimum bandwidths, typically:

These fibers were tested for bandwidth using an Overfilled Launch (OFL) test method, which accurately replicated real-life performance with an LED.

As the demand for bandwidth and higher throughput increased, especially in building and campus backbones, LEDs could not keep pace. With a maximum modulation rate of 622 Mb/s, LEDs would not support the 1 Gb/s and greater transmission rates required. One could make use of traditional lasers (Fabry-Perot, Distributed Feedback) typically used over single-mode fiber.  However these are considerably more expensive due to the higher performance characteristics required for long-distance transmission on single-mode fiber.

In response, the industry developed a new high-speed laser light source called a Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL). These VCSELs are inexpensive and well suited for low-cost 850 nm multimode transmission systems, allowing for data rates of 1 Gb/s and 10 Gb/s in the enterprise. With the emergence of these VCSELs, multimode fiber had to be “optimized” for operation with lasers.

>> Download Our Guide Now

What’s the Difference Between a VCSEL and an LED?

VCSELs provide higher power, narrower spectral width, smaller spot size and faster data rates than LEDs. All of these advantages add up to a significant performance boost. This assumes, of course, the fiber itself does not hinder performance. To understand why this could occur, we need to recognize the differences between VCSELs and LEDs and how they transmit signals along a multimode fiber.

All LEDs produce a smooth, uniform output that consistently fills the entire fiber core and excites the many hundreds of modes in the fiber. The bandwidth of the fiber is determined by the aggregate performance of all the modes in the fiber. If a few modes lag behind or get ahead due to modal dispersion, they have little impact on bandwidth because many other modes are carrying the bulk of the signal.

The energy output of a VCSEL is smaller and more concentrated than that of an LED. As a result, VCSELs do not excite all the modes in a multimode fiber, but rather only a restricted set of modes. The bandwidth of the fiber is dictated by this restricted set of modes, and any modes that lag or get ahead have a much greater influence on bandwidth.

Typically, a VCSEL’s power would be concentrated in the center of the fiber, where older fibers were prone to defects or variations in the refractive index profile (the critical light-guiding property in the core of the fiber), resulting in poor transmission of the signal. That is why some fibers may actually perform poorly with a VCSEL compared to an LED.

To complicate matters, the power profile of a VCSEL is nonuniform and fluctuates constantly. It changes sharply across its face, varies from VCSEL to VCSEL and changes with temperature and vibrational fluctuations. Consequently, individual VCSELs will excite different modes in a certain fiber at any given time. And because different modes carry varying amounts of power, the fiber’s bandwidth can vary in an unpredictable manner.

Why are laser-optimized fibers the best choice for use with VCSELs?

With the advent of VCSELs, it became apparent that the traditional multimode fiber deployed for LED systems did not take full advantage of the performance benefits of VCSELs.

To fully capitalize on the benefits that VCSELs offered, fiber manufacturers developed laser-optimized multimode fiber (LOMMF). LOMMF is specifically designed, fabricated and tested for efficient and reliable use with VCSELs.

LOMMFs should have a well-designed and carefully controlled refractive index profile to ensure optimum light transmission with a VCSEL. Precise control of the refractive index profile minimizes modal dispersion, also known as Differential Mode Delay (DMD). This ensures that all modes, or light paths, in the fiber arrive at the receiver at about the same time, minimizing pulse spreading and, therefore, maximizing bandwidth. A good refractive index profile is best achieved through DMD testing.

VCSELs and LOMMF provide tremendous flexibility and cost efficiency in “freeing up” bandwidth bottlenecks in the enterprise today and well into the future. LOMMF is completely compatible with LEDs and other fiber optic applications (there are no special connectors or termination required and no effect on attenuation). LOMMF can be installed now and utilized at slower data rates until the need arises to increase network speed to 1 or even 10 Gb/s. At that point, you only need to upgrade the optics modules to VCSEL-based transceivers. There is no need to pull new cable.

>> Download Our Guide Now

Can you use any laser-optimized fiber for 10 Gb/s?

No — it is important to note that not all laser-optimized fiber is 10 Gb/s capable. If 10 Gb/s capacity is in your future, you must make sure that the LOMMF you’re installing now is capable of handling 10 Gb/s. The first laser-optimized fibers, introduced to the market in the mid-1990s, were designed for 1 Gb/s applications. Available in both 62.5/125 µm and 50/125 µm designs, these fibers extended the reach capability of 1 Gb/s systems beyond what the industry standards stated. For instance, OFS 1 Gb/s Laser Optimized 62.5 Fiber can go 300 meters in cost-effective, 1 Gb/s 850 nm (1000BASE-SX) systems. 50/125 µm fibers offer even greater performance, with a reach of 600 meters or more. These 1 Gb/s LOMMFs, coupled with 850 nm VCSELs, allow for the lowest systems cost for building backbones and short-to medium-length campus backbones

How do you measure bandwidth for laser-optimized fiber?

Since LEDs have a uniform and consistent power profile that excites all the modes in a multimode fiber, the traditional OFL method of bandwidth measurement accurately predicts bandwidth of fiber for LED applications. But because VCSELs only excite some of the modes in a fiber, and in a varying manner, the OFL bandwidth measurement cannot predict what the fiber’s bandwidth would be if the fiber were to be used in a VCSEL application.

It should become clear now why fiber manufacturers developed laser-optimized fiber, and why DMD testing is so important. The refractive index has to be well designed and controlled to ensure that all modes exhibit minimal DMD and all arrive at the other end of the fiber at the same time. No matter which modes in the fiber are actually guiding the light, those modes will have minimal DMD and provide high bandwidth.

What should you look for in DMD testing?

DMD testing provides a clear picture of how individual mode groups carry light down the fiber, and which mode groups are causing DMD. In fact, that picture is so clear that the standards require fiber to be DMD-tested to ensure adequate bandwidth to the rated distances for 10 Gb/s applications.

>> Download Our Guide Now

Tony Irujo is sales engineer for optical fiber at OFS, a world-leading designer, manufacturer and provider of optical fiber, fiber optic cable, connectivity, fiber-to-the-subscriber (FTTx)and specialty photonics products. Tony provides technical sales and marketing support for multimode and single-mode optical fiber.

Tony has 25 years of experience in optical fiber manufacturing, testing and applications. He started with SpecTran in 1993 as a quality and process engineer and transitioned to more customer-focused roles with Lucent and OFS. He represents OFS in the Fiber Optic LAN Section (FOLS) of the TIA, has authored several papers on fiber technology and applications and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Tony has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College in Springfield, MA.

Celebrating Women and Girls in Science

Today the United Nations, its partners and women and girls around the world are marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.


Recent studies suggest that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist. While more girls are attending school than ever before, girls are significantly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects in many settings. They also appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they reach adolescence. In addition, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women.


As a step forward in reversing these trends, the April 2018 National Math and Science Initiative’s “Yes, She Did” campaign honored female STEM inventors. During the campaign, teachers, students, grandmothers and education enthusiasts voted fiber optic cable as the most impactful woman-influenced innovation.


One of the women highlighted in the campaign is Shirley Jackson, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the first African-American woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science. She is credited with scientific research that enabled the invention of such things as the portable fax, touch-tone telephone, solar cells and fiber optic cable.


“It’s madness that women aren’t always recognized for their STEM contributions,” the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) wrote in introducing its social media audiences to the women behind eight highly impactful innovations. In addition to fiber optic cable, NMSI highlighted the women behind the circular saw, Laserphaco probe, dishwasher, Kevlar® Fiber, modern home security system, computer programming and NASA’s space bumper.


“Fiber optic cable shrunk the global marketplace and now everything’s connected real-time to be faster, better, stronger,” said NMSI Chief Information Officer Rick Doucette.


On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s change the trends on women in science and technology. Join us in celebrating women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back.










Breakthrough Fiber Optic Laser May Revolutionize the Detection of Gases for Industry

An international research group has developed a world-first fiber optic technology which may help detect a wide range of gases with unprecedented sensitivity. Published in the journal Optica, the discovery involves the creation of a fiber optic device which consists of an invisible infrared laser coupled to an ultra-broadband supercontinuum generator – two elements that researchers have never managed to combine into a single optical system before. Led by Macquarie University scientists in Australia, the group believes that potential applications for this technology range from breath analysis to air-quality monitoring.

According to lead researcher Dr. Darren Hudson of Macquaraie University, “This new supercontinuum technology is capable of being used to detect an array of gases, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – gases that can be harmful to humans in high levels and have implications in climate change.”

Over the past decade, researchers around the globe have worked to create high-brightness sources of infrared light – an invisible form of light that sits just beyond visible red light in the spectrum. While this work has revolutionized how we detect and measure a staggering range of molecules, the current technology still requires large laser systems, optical laboratory conditions and an expert operator. (more…)

OFS Salutes the International Day of Photonics

The International Day of Photonics is held every two years to recognize and promote the role of photonics in our world. On this day (October 21 in 2016), organizations work to raise awareness about photonics and the important role that it plays in our lives.

In fact, photonics is a key enabling technology for a wide range of products that surround us. LED lighting, photovoltaic solar energy, photonics integrated circuits, optical components, lasers, sensors, imaging, displays, projectors and optical fiber are only a few of today’s technologies that incorporate photonics.

At OFS, we design, manufacture and provide optical fiber, fiber optic cable, connectivity and fiber-to-the-subscriber (FTTx) products. Our solutions cover a broad range of applications including telecommunications, medicine, industrial automation, sensing, government, aerospace and defense.

To learn more about the International Day of Photonics and photonics technologies, please visit HERE.