You are on page 1of 11

Project work

Optical free space communication


Optoelectronics TFFY22
Alexis Demko, Georg Egger


  

Optical free space communication..........................................................................................1


1.Introduction......................................................................................................................1
2.Applications.....................................................................................................................2
Free space applications..................................................................................................2
Terrestrial applications..................................................................................................3
Military applications......................................................................................................4
3.Propagation in media.......................................................................................................4
Attenuation.....................................................................................................................4
Bit error rate (BER), data rate and range......................................................................4
Choice of wavelength....................................................................................................5
Eye safety..................................................................................................................5
Attenuation................................................................................................................6
Scintillation....................................................................................................................6
4.Transmitting devices........................................................................................................7
5.Receiving devices............................................................................................................8
6.Tracking...........................................................................................................................9
7.Space lasers......................................................................................................................9
8.Conclusion......................................................................................................................10
References:...................................................................................................................10

1. Introduction
With the improvements in semiconductors optical free space communication has become
an attractive alternative to existing signal conducts as fibre or wireless (RF). It offers high
data rates and is much less expensive than underground fibre. But there are a few
restrictions which may mean it remains an alternative.

Many engineers are familiar with one of two successful existing technologies for data
communication: (1) Guided wave (e.g. fibre optics) and (2) wireless free space
communication (e.g. RF). Fibre optics offers extremely high bandwidths for high data
rate, while RF communications offers the advantage of wireless connectivity and the
ability to broadcast over a wide area. Optical free space communication fits into the 2nd

1
group, but has some properties of the 1st. Many aspects are related to fibre optics with the
difference, that the media is air and not fibres. Therefore are the required devices similar
to those used with fibres.

The advantages of such a system are the following:

 No need for digging up the roads

 No radio frequency licenses are required

 Bandwidth is equal or superior to fibre systems and much better than RF

 Doesn't cause interference with existing electromagnetic equipment because


interference on narrow band point-to-point connections is rather unlikely

But there are as well some limitations:

 Absorption (caused primarily by the water vapour and carbon dioxide)

 Scattering (depends of the used wavelength and the number and size of scattering
elements in the air e.g. fog)

 Shimmer (due to a combination of factors, including atmospheric turbulence, air


density, light refraction, cloud cover, and wind which cause a similar disturbance
when a laser beam is transmitted through the atmosphere)

 Moving building (although we are not aware of the movement, buildings often sway
from side to side even settle into the ground causing offset to the laser beam and
making the receiver laser receive less power)

2. Applications
Free space applications
Due to its properties optical free space communications is suited very well for providing
high bandwidth to point-to-point connections. The attenuation characteristics of free
space make inter-satellite connections a promising application for optical free space
communication. Systems of this kind are already being deployed as a communications
media in a number of key applications around the world.

2
Illustration 1Typical applications for optical free space
communications

Terrestrial applications
For terrestrial applications emerged a solution to the “last mile problem”. This consists in
the fact that needs for bandwidth cannot be satisfied because the next fibre backbone is
too far away. Laser links between the backbone and the user can provide quickly a high
bandwidth much more cost effective than with other technologies. Due to the
atmospheric effects on the propagation of light only short distance links can be
established assuring a comparable bit error rate to fibre networks.

With optical free space communication devices it's as well possible to replace lower
speed wired lines between computer networks with fibre-like delay-free high bandwidth.

It turned out as well that optical free space communication can be used to interconnect

3
LAN's in campus or industrial environments in a reasonable way or to deploy temporary
internet connection while the fibre installation can be done.

Another application is to use laser links to bypass a broken data connection.

Military applications
There are not many informations about military applications available. However there
have been successful experiments to track moving objects with a laser beam as well for
communication purposes using so called spatial light modulators.

3. Propagation in media
Attenuation
As any kind of communication systems, free space optics is of course subjected to losses.
The relation between received and transmitted power is:

Illustration 2The received power


Variables that can be controlled are the transmitted power, the receiver area, the
divergence and the range. But the atmospheric attenuation factor depends on the weather
conditions and is uncontrollable. However, the received power is exponentially
dependant on this parameter. Therefore, if weather conditions are not good, atmospheric
loss dominates other ones due to receiver area, divergence and transmitted power, and
any improve on these parameters are not significant.

Only the link range can compensate for atmospheric loss, and must be less than 500m.

Bit error rate (BER), data rate and range


In bad weather conditions (200 dB/km attenuation), making the BER requirement far less
strict only enables one to gain a few meters in the range. For example, as can be seen in
the graph below showing the BER versus range for a Gigabit Ethernet system in 200

4
dB/km attenuation conditions, requiring 1e-6 instead of 1e-12, makes the range gain
being only 10 meters.

Illustration 3Bit error rate (BER) over range

As well, decreasing the data rate requirement only enables one to gain a few decades of
meters.

One can conclude that free space optics behaves almost a binary way: either the
transmission is error free, either it is fully wrong. It is therefore no use trying to increase
range performance by decreasing BER or data rate requirement.

Choice of wavelength
Since efficient and reliable devices using 780nm or 850nm exist, many developers have
used them. Moreover 780nm devices are rather cheap since they are used in CD
recorders. However, using 1550nm wavelength, which is used in commercial fibre optic
communication networks, presents advantages. So the choice of wavelength has to be
done between both these wavelength ranges. Two main criteria have to be taken into
account: eye-safety and attenuation in atmosphere.

Eye safety
As free space optics uses laser beams propagating through the atmosphere, it must be
eye-safe. Human eye does not react the same way to both wavelength ranges mentioned
above. Between 400nm and 1400nm (visible and near infrared), the light goes through
the cornea and lens, and focuses on the retina which can be seriously damaged, while mid
and far infrared light is absorbed by cornea and lens, and does not reach the retina, as can

5
be seen on the figure below.

Illustration 4The eye and the frequency

Both ranges can be used to design eye-safe transmitters according to the power of the
laser beam they produce, but 1550nm wavelength enables to transmit power fifty times
higher than 780nm or 850nm in eye-safe conditions.

Attenuation
Mie scattering is the most significant loss mechanism for optical free space
communication. In general, attenuation due to Mie scattering is higher for shorter
wavelength, but in dense fog conditions, this advantage of longer wavelength no longer
exists. Attenuation due to fog can actually be assumed to be wavelength independent,
since other wavelength dependant phenomena like Rayleigh scattering are not significant
compared to Mie scattering.

Since 1550nm enables one to transmit more power than 780nm or 850nm in eye-safe
conditions, 1550nm is preferred in optical free space communications.

Scintillation
The transmitted laser beam can be subject to scintillation, while propagating through the
atmosphere. In the atmosphere, there are lots of air pockets created by wind and
temperature gradients, which behave like prisms and lenses varying in time, because of
changes of indices of refraction induced by temperature variation. To deal with this

6
problem, one transmission link can be divided in several beams carrying the same
information, and separated by 20mm each other, since turbulences pockets are usually
smaller.

4. Transmitting devices
One of the advantages of optical free space communication is that it does not require
specialist new components. Those systems deployed today are constructed from off-the-
shelf lasers and detectors little different from those used in fibre optic systems.

Some companies are, of course, offering components which are specially designed for
optical free space communication. There are a few demands on such devices:

 High optical power output

 Narrow linewidth

 Low noise

 Single mode

 Wavelength: 1400..1600nm

 High quantum efficiency

 Low total power consumption

It turns out that high speed semiconductor DFB and DBR lasers are crucial for high speed
optical communication links. These lasers can satisfy above demands and allow direct
modulation avoiding external modulators. In the following illustration we see the
bandwidth of such an laser.

The DFB lasers emit at high power in a narrow spectral band. In our example there was
taken the approach of incorporating the grating on the laser chip, eliminating the need for
an external fibre Bragg grating and reducing costs.

7
−20
I=1500mA
I=1300mA T=18°C
I=1100mA
I=900mA
−40 I=700mA

Signal, dB
−60

−80

1544 1546 1548 1550 1552 1554 1556


Wavelength, nm
Illustration 5Signal to wavelength of an example
DFB laser
But there are limits to the total power output. In order to not harm human eyes, radiated
power mustn't exceed the limits established by the International Electrotechnical
Commission (IEC60825-1). In total it works over distances of several hundred meters to
a few kilometers depending on the atmospheric conditions.

5. Receiving devices
To receive the laser beam, a detector is required, as well as a lens to focus the beam on
the detector. The detector can be a PIN diode or an avalanche photodiode. The latest is
preferred for communication systems, since it has a higher gain and better sensitivity.
This characteristic is important to overcome foggy weather, which can make the received
optical signal weak.

A transimpedance amplifier is usually needed to amplify the signal detected by the


photodiode, which is a current, and convert it to a voltage.

On the following figure can be seen principal parts of a transceiver:

8
Illustration 6Simplified drawing of a single-beam transceiver

6. Tracking
When transceivers for optical free space communication are mounted on high buildings, a
problem that can be faced is sway of buildings due to wind or seismic activity. This can
make a beam miss the receiver. There are 2 solutions to this problem.

The first one is beam divergence. By making the beam spread, it can reach the receiver
despite movements of the buildings. However, this solution is most of time not the right
one, since increasing the beam divergence decreases the received power, according to the
link equation.

The second solution is active tracking. This requires movables mirrors that control the
direction of the beam, so that it reaches the other transceiver even when buildings are
swaying. Those mirrors are oriented thanks to a feedback system.

7. Space lasers
Optical free space communications are also seriously being considered for space
communications. Both NASA and ESA have systems which exploit the special
attractions of free-space laser communication.

9
Illustration 7Artemis uses lasers to relay data in space
The ESA Advanced Relay and Technology Mission (ARTEMIS) data relay satellite is the
first to exploit free space lasers. First to benefit from the new laser element of the
Artemis data relay payload known as SILEX (Semiconductor Inter-satellite Link
Experiment) will be the French Spot 4 Earth observation satellite, which is currently
undergoing final preparations to its optical payload known as PASTEL (Passager Spot de
Telecommunications) a special laser terminal that will beam data to Artemis. SILEX is
using a 60mW laser at a wavelength range of 800-850 nm to link the pair with a 50 Mb/s
datalink.

The NASA has also an free space laser experiment planned for the International Space
Station. Contrary to the European project they will use commonly used terrestrial
equipment operating at 1550 nm.

8. Conclusion
A combination of RF and optical free space communication assures a low bit error rate as
well in case of fog. There are upcoming right now devices who support both modes.

References:
Roy Szweda: Lasers for free-space optical communications
III-Vs Review; The advanced semiconductor magazine vol 14 no 8 october 2001

Scott Bloom: The physics of free-space optics


http://www.freespaceoptic.com/White_Papers.htm

I. I. Kim, C. Moursund, E. J. Korevaar, AstroTerra Corp.: Comparison of laser beam


propagation at 785 nm and 1550 nm for optical wireless communications
Proceedings of SPIE Volume 4214, Optical Wireless Communications III, 2001

10
H.P. Lutz; Optical communications in space – Twenty years of ESA effort
ESA bulletin Nr. 91

The Swedish Defense Research Agency: Photonics in defense applications


http://fotonik.pitch.se

Roberta A. Ewart, Michael Enoch: Free space laser communication


IEEE communication magazine, August 2000

David L. Begley: Free-space laser communications - The agony and the ecstacy
Lasers and Electro-Optics Society 1999 12th Annual Meeting. IEEE, Volume 1, 1999

E. Koontz et.al.: Development of high speed DFB and DBR semiconductor lasers
MIT microsystem technology laboratories, annual report 2002

Willebrand, H.A.; Ghuman, B.S.: Fiber optics without fiber


IEEE Spectrum, Volume: 38, Issue 8, Aug 2001

11