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A Spatial Diversity System to Measure Optical

Fading in an Underwater Communications Channel


Jim A. Simpson, Brian L. Hughes and John F. Muth
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 276957914
Email: {jasimpson,blhughes,muth}@ncsu.edu
Abstract A two transmitter two receiver spatial diversity
system was built for measuring and characterizing fading in
underwater optical communication channels. The system allows
the collection of laboratory generated interruptions of the optical
beam from turbulence, particles, and bubbles. The data collected
is characterized using fading metrics developed for atmospheric
measurements. Spatial diversity is shown to decrease the amount
of fading observed at the receiver to improve system performance.

I. I NTRODUCTION
Recent developments in oceanography, marine technology,
and the proliferation of ocean vehicles and structures, have
accelerated the demand for reliable underwater communication
systems. The dynamic nature of such systems makes the use of
tethered communication links undesirable and wireless links
advantageous. The use of radio frequency communication is
limited by the high attenuation of radio frequency electromagnetic waves in water. Acoustic communication is successful
[1], but is limited in data-rate by the low bandwidth and slow
speed of sound underwater [2].
Underwater optical communication is a promising alternative to acoustics for low-latency, high-data-rate communications. Recent advances in low-cost light sources such as LEDs
[3], and diode lasers [4] in the 400-550 nm low-attenuation
of light window in seawater [5] are enabling components for
compact underwater systems. A 10 Mbps underwater optical
communication system using LEDs has been built and tested
for underwater vehicles [6]. A 1 Gbps laboratory system is
in development [7], and advances have also been made in
modulation techniques [8], [9].
Recently, the authors have successfully implemented error
correction codes such as Reed-Solomon [10] and state-of-theart Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS)
turbo codes [11] in underwater optical communication systems. Such systems are capable of detecting and correcting
small to moderate number of errors in transmission. This
allows the system to operate at a lower signal-to-noise ratio,
or at an extended range, for a given bit-error-rate.
In natural waters, it is presumed that a large number of
errors could be introduced by interruptions in the optical
This work was supported by the Ofce of Naval Research STTR N0001407-M-0308 and by the National Science Foundation under grants CCF0515164 and ECCS-0636603.

0-933957-38-1/09/$20.00 2009 MTS

path. These interruptions could arise from turbulence, particles, and/or bubbles and result in uctuations in the received
intensity. This loss of received intensity is referred to as a
fade. This can impact the underwater communications link,
even when high signal-to-noise ratios are normally present.
In this paper, the goal is to construct a system with spatial
diversity to examine and characterize fading and its spatial
dependence.
A two transmitter, two receiver spatial diversity system is
built and compared with a single transmitter-receiver system.
Experiments were conducted in a 2 foot water tank and
processed to obtain fade statistics.
II. BACKGROUND
Optical fading is the collective effect of the presence of
refractive index variations, particles, bubbles, and other phenomenon that results in abrupt drops in received irradiance
of the light at the detector. Fig. 1 shows possible sources of
fading in the underwater optical path and Table I indicates their
approximate size distributions. Small particles cause scattering
of the optical signal, large particles cause beam blockages,
and refractive index variations can cause pointing errors due
to beam wander.
The presence of suspended particulate matter in water
is known to affect optical property meters such as beam
Transmitted
Optical
Wavefront

Received
Optical
Wavefront

Refractive
Large
Bubbles from
Marine
Index
Suspended
Wave Breaking Lifeforms
Particulate Changes due
and Organic
and
to Turbulence
Matter
Processes Larger Objects

Fig. 1.

Possible sources of fading in an underwater optical path

TABLE I
A PPROXIMATE PARTICLES SIZE DISTRIBUTIONS OF SEAWATER
CONSTITUENTS OF INTEREST [12]

Seawater Constituent

Particle Size

Suspended Particulate Matter

0.2 m 1 cm

Phytoplankton

0.5 m 600 m

Zooplankton

4 m 1 cm

Bubbles

20 m 1 cm

transmissometers, light-scattering photometers, uorometers,


and absorption meters [17]. Typically, for instrumentation
devices, these are handled by averaging the meter outputs after
removing aberrant data points resulting from such particles
falling or swimming across the instrument space. This is
different from optical communication systems where such
techniques are not possible and would result in information
being lost. It has been shown that spheres of 10 m and
40 m, with refractive indices of 1.2 relative to water, scatter,
in a near forward cone of 1.3 , 15% and 43% of the incident
light, respectively [18]. The effect of such scattering is large
and becomes worse with increasing particle size.
Bubbles occur in water from a variety of sources, including
turbulent motion of water, biological sources, and breaking
waves. Additionally, persistent bubbles are reported to be
present at concentrations as high as 106 bubbles per m3 even in
quiescent waters and as deep as several tens of meters. These
persistent bubble populations have much longer lifetimes, and
are stable due to either the organic coating they acquire, or the
particles they absorb [19]. They are also very strong scatterers.
For air bubbles in water, the critical angle, the angle at which
the incident light wave suffers total internal reection, is very
high. This leads to a scattering angle of about 83 degrees. This
prevents the light from penetrating into and tunneling through
the bubble [20], resulting in heavy attenuation as bubbles move
across the beam path.
Variations in refractive index can also result in fading by
changing the direction of the optical beam or by distorting the
wave front. These variations can arise from turbulence or other
uid ow that results in refractive index changes [13][16].
III. S YSTEM A RCHITECTURE
A spatial diversity system was built to measure fading and
its spatial dependence. To provide a reference for comparison,
a traditional single beam system was also built to simultaneously measure the baseline performance of existing systems in
the same fading environments. To ensure a fair comparison,
the single transmitter operated at twice the power, and the
single receiver was set to have twice the aperture area and eld
of view as compared to the diversity system. Both systems
use power-adjustable 200 mW 405 nm laser diodes as the
transmitter and Thorlabs PDA36A Si amplied photodetectors.
The diversity system setup consists of two transmitters
and two receivers placed beside each other. The transmitters
are placed 4 inches apart, and can be driven together or

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Diversity system transmitter

Diversity system receiver

separately. The receivers are placed 4 inches apart, and like


the transmitters, are adjustable in separation between beams.
Each receiver has a 1 inch light collecting lens in front to focus
the received irradiance on the detector. The lens also acts as
a eld stop, limiting the eld of the view of each receiver to
approximately 3 degrees.
The transmitters can be arranged in either spatial diversity
or a space-time diversity conguration. In the spatial diversity
conguration, a single modulated laser diode source is used
in combination with a 50:50 beam splitter and a 45 mirror to
generate two parallel beams with approximately equal power
and carrying the same data stream. For the space-time diversity
conguration, two separately modulated laser diode sources
are placed beside each other to form two parallel beams that
can carry separate streams of encoded data. This conguration
can be used for spatial multipliexing as well. In both cases,
the laser diodes are modulated using a Field Programmable
Gate Array (FPGA) connected to a PC over a USB link. The
total power, in either conguration, can be digitally set to as
high as 200 mW [3].
The single beam system has a single transmitter-receiver
pair. The transmitter and receiver used are similar to the
diversity system. However, the receiver has a 2 inch light
collecting lens with an iris in front set to 1.44 inches in


2 Rx

2 Tx

2P
1 Tx

C. Frequency of Fades

2

The frequency of fades statistic gives the expected number


of fades in a unit period of time (sec.). It is calculated by
counting the number of times the irradiance level falls below
the threshold, FT , and dividing that number by the total time,
in seconds.
D. Mean Fade Time

1 Rx

Fig. 4. Field of view and laser power comparison between diversity and
non-diversity systems

diameter. This effectively limits the aperture area of the lens


to 1013 mm2 , twice that of each receiver on the diversity
system. The eld of view of the single beam system is also
set at and veried to be approximately 6 degrees, twice that
of each receiver on the diversity system.
In both systems, the output signals from the receivers are
digitized using a National Instruments USB-5133 100 MSps
8-bit digitizer. The digitizer has an on-board memory buffer of
4 MB/channel. In order to acquire the output continuously for
an extended period of time, the sampling rate of the digitizer
was set low at 2.22 kSps. This allows data to be captured
continuously for 1800 s (30 mins.) and still have enough time
resolution to capture the uctuations in irradiance levels.
IV. M EASURING AND C HARACTERIZING FADING
For the purposes of measuring fading, the transmitters are
set to be continuously on, while the digitizers are set to
continuously record the constant output signal at the receiver.
Fading is then articially introduced in the channel.
In order to quantify the measured fading, we employ the
fade statistics parameters outlined in [21], where the authors have applied the specied metrics for characterizing
atmospheric and deep space laser communication systems.
The metrics include the four parameters: probability of fade,
frequency of fades, mean fade time, and mean fade bits.
These four parameters are all calculated as a function of the
parameter, fade threshold level.
A. Fade Threshold Level (FT )
All of the statistics presented are calculated as a function
of the fade threshold level parameter. The fade threshold level
represents, in decibels (dB), a decreasing threshold below the
mean, that irradiance level measurements are considered to be
above or below, for calculating various statistics. For example,
a fade threshold level of 3 dB, gives a level for comparison,
where the fade is half the power of the mean signal level.
B. Probability of Fade
The probability of fade describes the percentage of time the
received irradiance signal lies below a specied fade threshold
level. This is calculated by counting the number of sample
points that lie below FT , and dividing that by the total number
of samples.

The mean fade time is dened as the average time the


irradiance level stays below the threshold, once it falls below
the threshold. It can be calculated by taking the ratio of
probability of fade to its corresponding frequency of fades,
at each fade level, FT .
E. Mean Fade Bits
The mean fade bits statistic estimates the average number of
bits in a fade, once it enters a fade, as a function of FT. It can
be calculated for a particular bit-rate, by dividing the mean
fade time by the duration of one bit. A bit-rate of 500kbps is
used by the experimental system, resulting in bit duration of
2us.
V. T RANSMIT AND R ECEIVER D IVERSITY
Fading statistics measurement experiments require a constant output power from both transmitters. For an actual data
transmission, both transmitters can be modulated together, or
separately, as required.
Receiver diversity is achieved using two receivers. The
separate signals at the receivers can be effectively used by
employing various diversity combining techniques. Two linear
diversity combining techniques that have been employed are
equal gain combining (EGC), and maximum combining (SEL).
In an equal gain combiner, the two receiver output signals
are summed with equal weights to generate the combined
signal. This can be represented as
y = y1 + y2

(1)

In maximum combining, the receiver with the largest signal


power at each instant of time is chosen as the combined signal.
The combined signal is therefore
y = max (y1 , y2 ) ,

(2)

where y1 is the signal at the rst receiver and y2 is the


signal at the second receiver.
VI. E XPERIMENTAL R ESULTS
In order to test the performance of the system, in-laboratory
tests were conducted in controlled environments. The uctuations of clear quiet water were compared to uctuations from
a sheet of bubbles generated with pressurized air.

A. Clear, Quiet Water

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

10

10
PDF

10

10

10

10

10
0.05 0.03 0.01 0.01 0.03 0.05 0.07 0.090.1
Fade Level [dB]

A baseline experiment was initially conducted using the


diversity and non-diversity systems in order to understand and
differentiate noise from fading in measurements. The PDF
indicates that, in the absence of fading, the received signal
is almost equally distributed around the mean irradiance level.
This is as expected and representative of Gaussian noise in
the collected irradiance. The probability of fade, frequency of
fades, and mean fade time stay within 0.02 dB of the mean
irradiance level. Essentially, these quantities give an idea of
what can be considered noise, and differentiate noise from
fades.
B. Fading from Bubbles

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

Probability of Fade

10

10

10

10

10

10

0.01

0.02
0.03
Fade Level [dB]

0.04

0.05

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

Frequency of Fades

10

10

10

10

10

10

10

0.01

0.04

0.05

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

3.1

Mean Fade Time

0.02
0.03
Fade Level [dB]

Fading from bubbles is experimented as a laboratory test for


the system built. A 60 gallon sh tank lled with municipal
water was setup to introduce bubbles in a controlled manner
to an underwater optical channel. Clear tubing with micro
holes was ran along the bottom and was connected to a 300
gallon air compressor set at a xed output pressure of 25
psi. This introduces a steady stream of approximately equally
sized 4 mm diameter bubbles in to the optical path. Both the
diversity and non-diversity system transmitters and receivers
were positioned on either end of the water tank and set to
collect the received irradiance from a continuously on laser
for 5 minutes. The collected data was processed for fade
parameters and the following results were obtained.
From the non-diversity system, it can be seen that fades
as high as 16dB were observed as a result of bubbles across
the beam path. Using the diversity system and either of the
combining techniques, all fade parameters were improved,
with the deepest fades limited at 8dB. Also, at a fade level of
8dB, it can be noted that the mean fade time was dropped from
approximately 50ms to about 5ms for the diversity system with
receiver selection combiner. At a data-rate of 500kbps, this
corresponds to approximately 26,000 bits affected by an 8dB
fade, as opposed to only about 2,200 affected for the diversity
system.

10

3.2

10

3.3

10

Fig. 5.

0.01

0.02
0.03
Fade Level [dB]

0.04

0.05

PDF and fade parameters for clear, quiet water.


Fig. 6.

View of bubble screen from end of water tank

VII. C ONCLUSION

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

10

PDF

10

10

10

10

10

4
6
8
10
Fade Level [dB]

12

14

16

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

Probability of Fade

10

10

R EFERENCES

10

10

10

10

6
8
10
Fade Level [dB]

12

14

16

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)

Frequency of Fades

10

10

10

10

10

6
8
10
Fade Level [dB]

12

14

16

10

1 Tx, 1 Rx
2 Tx, 2 Rx (EGC)
2 Tx, 2 Rx (SEL)
Mean Fade Time

The construction and use of a spatial diversity system for the


measurement and characterization of fading in an underwater
optical communication system has been demonstrated. The
system consists of two transmitters and two receivers capable
of sending the same data stream or two separate space-time
encoded data streams across the two different optical paths.
A traditional, non-diversity transmitter-receiver pair was also
constructed to simultaneously offer a baseline measurement
for comparison with existing architectures.
Experiments conducted using the system in laboratory generated fading environments provides insight in to the utility
of the system for tests in natural waters. The ability to obtain
statistical data of fading from natural particles, bubbles, and
fades introduced by pointing errors and turbulence should
provide useful information for the construction of underwater
optical systems.

10

10

10

Fig. 7.

6
8
10
Fade Level [dB]

12

14

16

PDF and fade parameters for bubbles experiment

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