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Light Pulse Dispersion and the Reasons
In digital communication systems, information is encoded in the form of pulses and then these light pulses are transmitted from the transmitter to the receiver. The larger the number of pulses that can be sent per unit time and still be resolvable at the receiver end, the larger is the capacity of the system. However, when the light pulses travel down the fiber, the pulses spread out, and this phenomenon is called Pulse Dispersion. Pulse dispersion is shown in the following figure.

Pulse dispersion is one of the two most important factors that limit a fiber’s capacity (the other is fiber’s losses). Pulse dispersion happens because of four main reasons: A) Intermodal Dispersion (also called Modal Dispersion or Group Delay) Modal dispersion is only important in multimode fibers. Many different modes propagate in a multimode fiber. Each of these modes takes a different path and thus different length when traveling down the fiber.

As we shall see. Single mode fiber doesn’t have modal dispersion since there is only one mode propagating in the fiber. Each wavelength takes different amounts of time to propagate the same path. B) Material Dispersion (also called Chromatic Dispersion) Material dispersion is caused by the velocity of light (or its refractive index) being a function of wavelength. .Another factor is the differing propagation constants associated with each mode (each mode’s group velocity). The following figure shows refractive index versus wavelength in silica. Both factors contribute to modal dispersion. Any given light source (even a laser) emits over a range of wavelengths as shown below. single mode fiber’s bandwidth is mainly limited by material dispersion. waveguide dispersion and PMD (polarization mode dispersion).

. we will still have waveguide dispersion. hence. C) Polarization Mode Dispersion (PMD) PMD is only important in single mode fibers. As shown below. only one mode can propagate. even if the refractive indexes of the core and cladding are independent of wavelength. Where a is the core radius and λ is the wavelength. The electric fields of the two modes are perpendicular to each other. this shows as the propagation constant of a mode (and. In single mode fiber. This mode is actually composed of two distinct polarization modes. its velocity) being a function of a/λ. Unlike material dispersion.C) Waveguide Dispersion Waveguide dispersion is a type of dispersion attributable to the relationship of the physical dimensions of the waveguide and the optical signal. In optical fibers.

2. However. . and forces applied to it from the outside world.5 Gb/s. Ray optics modal analysis is only valid when the V number is greater than 10. causes the refractive index of glass (thus velocity) to differ very slightly for light in the two polarization modes. Thus these two polarization modes arrive at slightly different time at the end of the fiber. Polarization Mode Dispersion is smaller in magnitude than material dispersion. Modal Dispersion A. Stresses within the fiber. This is called Polarization Mode Dispersion (PMD) and is shown below. PMD is a serious problem when data rate exceeds 2. in reality there is no perfect optical fiber. so it hasn’t been a problem until recently high speed long distance single mode fiber systems becomes popular. Step-Index Multimode Fiber Modal Dispersion Here we stress that the following analysis uses ray optics. If the V number is lower. wave theory has to be used.These two polarization modes are identical in a perfectly symmetrical fiber.

△ = 1. the center ray with a 0° incident angle travels fastest straight down the fiber. we get Finding (n1-n2). The ray which is incident at the critical angle travels slowest. we have To find V. λ is the light’s vacuum wavelength. The time delay between these two modes is given by where n1 is refractive index of the core. Example: Consider a step-index multimode fiber with a 50um diameter core. 125um diameter cladding.5%. V is the V number given by here a is the core radius. Calculate the modal dispersion in units of ns*km-1 for this fiber at 850nm wavelength. n1 = 1. we use Hence. L is the length of the fiber. n2 is refractive index of the cladding. From above formula.47. .In a step-index multimode fiber.

Although the higher-order modes need to travel longer path lengths. their average velocity is also higher than the light ray at the center (graded-index fiber has highest refractive index at the center and then gradually decreases toward the cladding). The delay time incurred by the m-th mode of the fiber will be given by where .B. Graded-Index Multimode Fiber Modal Dispersion In grade-index profile multimode fiber. the modal dispersion calculation becomes a little more complicated since we have to account for the inhomogeneous velocity of the light in the fiber as well as the sinusoidal paths as shown above. Here we just give out the conclusion of graded-index multimode fiber modal dispersion.

For negative modal delay. we know that graded-index fiber with a optimum index profile gopt can minimize the time delay of the modes. gopt is given by From above discussion.2ns*km-1 for laser light sources and 1. From the first equation. This is one of the primary advantages of the graded-index multimode fiber over a step-index multimode fiber of the same size.The information on d△/dλ and dn1/dλ is material-dependent and wavelength-dependent and would have to be provided from a study of the materials used in fabrication of the fibers. the linear term in △ can be eliminated. Current total dispersion values in graded-index multimode fiber is in the order of 0. From the comparison of step-index fiber and graded-index fiber modal delay. we know that gradedindex fiber modal dispersion is smaller than that of step-index fiber. net modal delay can be positive or negative depending on the size of g relative to gopt.0 ns*km-1 for LED light sources. Material Dispersion . if the profile index g is set to an optimum value gopt. 3. The net delay from the lowest-order modes to the highest order modes is given by From this equation. it means the higher-order modes arrive before the lower-order modes.

This means that even in a single mode fiber (since laser source also has some spectral linewidth). Material dispersion is caused by the velocity of light (or refractive index) being a function of wavelength as shown above. The quantity is also referred to as the group refractive index since c/N(λ) gives the group velocity. . longer wavelengths travel faster and arrive earlier than shorter wavelengths at the receiver. This broadening is given by The quantity (λ2d2n/dλ2) is a dimensionless quantity. its group velocity vg is given by Thus. If the source is characterized by spectral width △λ. then each wavelength component will traverse with a different group velocity. the time taken by a pulse to traverse length L of fiber is given by which is dependent on the wavelength λ. resulting in temporal broadening of the pulse. When a temporal pulse propagates through a homogeneous medium. The above pulse broadening is referred to as material dispersion and occurs when a pulse propagates through any dispersive medium. and this causes pulse spreading. All light sources (even a laser source) have some degree of spectral width.The above figure shows the variation of refractive index n with wavelength λ for fused silica used in current glass fibers.

27um. From the above figure. we will see that the other sources of dispersion move the wavelength for zero total dispersion to 1300nm. Waveguide dispersion is negligible in multimode fibers and in single mode fibers operated at wavelengths below 1um. For λ ≈ 1. Waveguide Dispersion As shown in “Basic Optics For Optical Fiber”. In single mode fiber.27um the material dispersion of fused silica changes sign. but it becomes important for single mode fibers operated in above 1. This means that at λ ≈ 1. λ is light’s vacuum wavelength). However.27um the material dispersion is zero. Pulse spreading (pulse dispersion) happens because of two mechanisms: (1) Material Dispersion as discussed above. there is no Modal Dispersion as discussed above. 4. .405. Here is the plot of (λ2d2n/dλ2) for fused silica (the material for current glass fibers). Waveguide dispersion results from the propagation constant of a mode (its group velocity) being a function of a/λ (a is fiber’s core radius. for a step-index fiber.Material dispersion Dm is usually specified in units of picoseconds per kilometer (fiber length) per nanometer (spectral width of the source) as given by where λ is in micrometers (um). This wavelength is referred to as Zero Material Dispersion Wavelength (ZMDW). (2) Waveguide Dispersion as will be discussed here. The quantity (λ2d2n/dλ2) characterizes the material dispersion of the fiber and is grouped in the equation. when 0 < V < 2.27um. the fiber becomes a single mode fiber which means that only one guided mode can propagate in the fiber. we can see that with λ ≈ 1. d2n/dλ2 ≈ 0.

For step-index fibers. b depends only on the V value of the fiber.The normalized propagation constant b of a mode is defined by Since. Since we have So So the time taken by a pulse to traverse length L of the fiber is given by where . the ≈ step is concluded based on that n1 is very close to n2 which is true for all practical fibers. n1 and n2 are assumed to be independent of λ. for guided modes β/k0 lies between n1 and n2. the above equation can be rewritten as In the above equation. b lies between 0 and 1. Thus we can conclude The group velocity is given by In the above equation.

0 to 2. The single mode values of interest are from V = 2. and V(d2(bV)/dV2) for the fundamental mode as a function of V for a step-index fiber. .4. For the lowest-order mode(the HE11 mode). as shown below. d(bV)/dV. our have b(V) as The following figure shows the variations of b.So for a light source with a spectral width of △λ. the waveguide dispersion is This is our desired expression for the waveguide dispersion.

25. This is shown below. At this wavelength. 2 2 5. the value of V(d (bV)/dV ) decreases monotonically from 0. in general. Hence in this region. there is a wavelength at which the negative waveguide dispersion will compensate the positive material dispersion. a small negative value (because of the minus sign – in the waveguide dispersion expression △τω above). .In the above figure. Since the material dispersion is positive for λ greater than the zero material dispersion wavelength. Total Dispersion for Single Mode Fiber It can be seen that the waveguide dispersion is negative in the single mode region. the net dispersion of the single mode fiber is zero. the waveguide dispersion is.64 down to 0.

The resulted fiber is called dispersion-shifted fiber. Most installed fiber optic systems today operate with such fibers. The first dispersion-shifted fibers had zero dispersion shifted to 1550nm to match their minimum absorption wavelength. Indeed. Dispersion Shifted Single Mode Fibers Zero Dispersion-Shifted Fiber (ZDSF) From the above discussion. . we could have both minimum loss and very low dispersion. This would lead to very high bandwidth systems with very long (~100km) repeaterless transmission. However. we have achieved this by changing the fiber parameters. The size of the waveguide dispersion has been found to be sensitive to the doping levels as well as the values of △ and a (core radius). 6.Single mode fiber with zero total dispersion around 1300nm is referred to as conventional single mode fiber (CSF) or nondispersion shifted fiber (NDSF). If the zero dispersion wavelength could be shifted to the 1550nm region. the minimum fiber loss is at 1550nm. we know the conventional single mode fiber has zero total dispersion around 1300nm.

. it proved to be unusable for WDM (wavelength-division multiplexing) systems. Non-Zero Dispersion-Shifted Fiber (NZDSF) In order to avoid four-wave mixing problem in WDM systems. The idea is to move the zero-dispersion wavelength outside the band used for erbium-fiber doped amplifiers. they suffer from a type of crosstalk called four-wave mixing. When multiple optical channels pass through the same fiber at wavelengths where dispersion is very close to zero. non-zero dispersion-shifted fibers were invented.Fiber manufacturers achieved this by adapting the layered core design shown in the following figure. ZDSF were installed in some systems but never came into wide use because of four-wave mixing problem. The degradation is so severe that zero dispersion-shifted fiber cannot be used for dense-WDM systems. Although this type of fiber (zero dispersion-shifted fiber) worked well for single channel systems.

. The following figure shows two refractive-index profile designs. This is done by using other layered core structures to adjust the waveguide dispersion differently. This small dispersion is enough to keep signals at closely spaced wavelengths from staying in phase over long distances and thus preventing four-wave mixing.The name Non-Zero Dispersion-Shifted comes from the fact that the dispersion is shifted to a value that is low – but not zero – in the 1550nm bad of erbium-fiber amplifiers. one with plus sign at 1550nm and one with negative sign at 1550nm (both in light blue color). T he following figure shows two NZDSF fibers. But you can shift the dispersion to a positive or negative value. Positive dispersion is an advantage because it is easier to compensate than negative dispersion.

Dispersion-Flattened Fiber (DFF) .

The increased power density in fiber can cause non-linear effects. On the other hand. These fibers tend to have a high-index difference between core and cladding. then there will be significant residual (positive) dispersion. tens of millions of miles of CSF (Conventional Single Mode Fiber with zero dispersion near 1300nm) already exist in the underground ducts operating at 1300nm. But. . in many countries. a few hundred meters to a kilometer. which can be used to compensate for dispersion over tens of kilometers of the fiber in the link. The reduced dispersion curve slope helps to simplify the task of dispersion compensation for systems with many optical channels. and often have a small effective area. replacing these fibers by non-zero dispersion-shifted fibers would involve huge cost. but there are tradeoffs. An important one is that dispersion-flattened fiber designs tend to have smaller mode-field diameter which concentrate optical power in a smaller volume. One could increase the transmission capacity by operating these fibers at 1550nm and using WDM techniques and optical amplifiers. In recent years.Another way to minimize dispersion effects for dense-WDM systems is to reduce the slope of the dispersion curve. there has been considerable work in upgrading the installed 1300nm optimized fiber links for operation at 1550nm. This is achieved by developing fibers with very large negative dispersion coefficients. Dispersion-Compensating Fiber Now. This is called Dispersion-Flattened Fiber (DFF) as shown in the 3rd figure above in pink color. The following figure shows the refractive-index profile of one design.