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Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept.

of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 1

Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar
Department of Electrical Engineering
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

Lecture: 25
Fiber Optic Link Design

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 2

The design criteria for a fiber optic link design procedure is mainly divided into
broad categories which can be further subdivided as shown by the tree diagram below:

Figure 25.1: Fiber Optic Link Design Criteria
The primary design criteria signify the most basic and fundamental information
parameters to be made available by the user to the designer for designing a reliable fiber
optic link. The first important information to be specified by the user is the desired bit rate
of data transmission. However, the dispersion in the optical fiber exerts a limitation on the
maximum achievable and realisable data rate of transmission. The next intricate
information to be provided for the design process is the length of the optical link so as to
enable the designer to ascertain the position of the optical repeaters along the link for a
satisfactory optical data link.
Along with the primary design criteria, there are some additional parameters which
facilitate better design and quality analysis of the optical link. These factors consist of the
scheme of modulation, the system fidelity, cost, upgradeability, commercial availability etc.
A fundamental and very simple point-to-point optical communication link can be
schematically drawn as shown in the figure below.

Figure 25.2: Basic Optical communication link
The information source provides the data (analog/digital) at the modulating
frequency which are to be transmitted to the end user. These data bits are then impressed
on a carrier signal and then coupled onto the optical channel (optical fiber cable) for
transmission. The optical fiber carries this signal and the receiver receives the transmitted
Fiber Optic Link Design
Primary Design Criteria
Bit Rate (Dispersion
Link Length (Attenuation
Additional Design
Modulation format eg.
System Fidelity:BER, SNR
Cost: components,
installation, maintainance
Commercial Availability

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 3

signal at the output of the optical fiber. This received signal is then processed
appropriately to retrieve the data in the signal and this data is then communicated to the
intended user.
Although the above block diagram looks fairly simple and practically inadequate for
a reliable communication link, yet it provides the basic structure for designing of advanced
optical communication links with diverse capabilities and better performance
characteristics. In practical optical communication links, number of different factors need to
be ascertained and monitored both online and offline to ensure satisfactory and reliable
optical link. The design parameters mentioned above encompass only the three main
modules of the optical communication link namely the optical transmitter, optical fiber and
the optical receiver. The schematic of the link shown in the above figure is rather very
basic. A more appropriate model along with different important performance parameters
and factors is shown in the figure below:

Figure 25.3: Practical Representation of an optical link
The optical transmitter module consists of an optical source such as LASER diode,
LED etc. and the light from this source is coupled onto the optical fiber via suitable
connector as shown in the above figure 25.3. The quantities indicated below certain
components in the above figure signify the amount of optical energy degradation caused in
the corresponding component (per metre) when light energy propagates through it. The
coupled light in the optical fiber then travels along the fiber to reach the receiving end.
However, in practical links, the distance between the transmitter and the receiver modules
may range from a few metres to tens of kilometres. To realise an optical link over such
long distances, optical fibers of such lengths are not commercially available. Generally
optical fibers come in spools which may contain optical fibers upto lengths of about 3-5km
and so to realise long distance links, often, spools of optical fibers have to be cascaded
and fiber ends have to be joined together. This joint may either be permanent or temporary
depending on the requirement. Permanent joints are done by a mechanism called splicing
and the joint produced as a result of splicing is called as a splice (as shown in the above
figure). Temporary joints are generally done via appropriate connectors. Temporary joints
are generally preferred wherever routine monitoring of fiber performance and
measurements are necessary so that the fibers can be disconnected/re-connected with
ease without causing any significant change to the system performance. The light energy
at the output of the optical fiber is then coupled onto the optical receiver via suitable
connectors to minimize losses in optical power and to reduce power penalty.

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 4

The diagram below shows the performance of different optical sources and optical
receivers with respect to the desired bit rate of data transfer which helps the designer to
choose the appropriate optical source and the appropriate optical receiver which would
successfully serve the desired application.

As seen from the above figure, LEDs generally have an optical output power of
about a few micro-watts to a few hundred micro-watts at modulation bandwidths of about
50MHz. However, the LASER diode has a much higher output power at the same input
power than the LED which may range from 1mW to tens of miliwatts. One important
observation that can be made from the above figure is the decrease in the optical output
power from both the type of sources at higher data rates. This observation can be
attributed to the fact that both the types of optical sources are based on p-n semiconductor
junctions which, in principle, act as low pass filters and therefore the output power reduces
at the high frequencies (or higher data rates).
The above figure also shows the performance of an optical receiver with respect to
increasing data rate of transmission. It is clearly seen from the above figure that as the
data rate of transmission increases, the average power required to be detected for an
acceptable BER, also increases. This fact was also visible in our discussion of the average
power required per bit and the discussions on power penalty that in the presence of noise,
as the rate of bit transfer increases, the minimum detectable power required also
increases (this increase is almost as the square root of the bandwidth as seen in the
thermal noise dominated receiver).
In optical link design problems, the power of the optical source and the optical
receiver are generally expressed in dBm. The dB equivalent power of 1mW power is taken
as the reference i.e. 0 dBm and the increasing powers are expressed in their equivalent

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 5

dBm values by normalizing them with respect to 1mW and for every 10 fold increase in the
actual power, increases the dBm equivalent power by 10. That is:

For typical optical LASER type of sources the output power normally ranges
between 3-5 dBm. And a typical optical receiver requires -30 to -40 dBm of detectable
power for a BER of about 10
The following figure shows a plot of the sensitivity of different materials that qualify
to be used as material for construction of an optical receiver.

Figure 25.4: Receiver Sensitivities Vs Data rate
The above figure enables a designer to choose the appropriate material based on
the desired wavelength of operation and the data rate specified by the user and also helps
to calculate the minimum required detectable power for the chosen material so that the
system achieves the desired BER performance. The plots are for the variation in the
caused in the receiver sensitivity as a result of the variation in the data rate at a particular
wavelength. The choice of the wavelength depends upon the characteristic properties of
the material.
After having chosen an appropriate type of source which emits a known amount of
optical power and an equally suitable optical receiver material with known sensitivity at the
desired data rate of operation, the next step in the design process is to estimate the
maximum possible allowable losses and other performance parameters in the system
during operation so that the designed system renders the desired SNR or BER. Such
estimations are known as power budget calculations. Hence the two known quantities are:

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 6


Having fixed the above two parameters, the maximum possible allowable loss that
can occur is the difference between the transmitter and the received powers. The loss
occurs in the different components connected in the system such as the connectors,
splices, the optical fiber and also in the system itself which is known as the system margin.
Generally a system margin of about 6dB is pre-set in practical systems. The total loss is,
hence, the sum total of all the losses occurring in each of these components (calculated
per unit length).

( )

) (25.1)
The maximum possible length (L
) of the optical fiber that can be used in the
above design, without affecting the system BER, can then be determined as:

The length of the fiber determined from the above expression is termed as the
power budget limited link length of optical fiber. If an optical fiber of length beyond the
power budget limited link length is used, the system BER deteriorates and the system
performance degrades. So the power budget calculations are a first priority in optical link
design. The following figure shows the graphical calculation of the power budget limited
link length for the basic optical link of figure 25.2

Figure 25.5: Power budget calculations

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 7

The next step in the design of an optical link is the rise time budget calculations.
Rise time of a system is the time taken by the system to attain 90% of the steady state
response of the system (from the initial state) to particular input. The rise time of a system
varies inversely with its bandwidth; a system with infinite bandwidth has zero rise time i.e.
it can instantaneously respond to any instantaneous input. However, practical systems,
including optical systems, have finite bandwidth and so have non-zero rise time value.
That is, there is always a finite amount of time, however small, that the system requires, to
respond to a particular input or variations in the input. The rise time of the system
determines the speed of the device and also indicates the maximum possible frequency of
variations in the input signal that the system can be subjected to, so that it produces a
reliable output. Since, the optical transmitter, optical receiver and the optical channel may
be assumed to be individual systems, they have individual rise times which may be
different and there is always a need to synchronize the three so that the system as a
whole operates on the desired data rate of transmission with best possible performance of
the system as a whole. However, the aim of this section is to estimate the maximum
allowable rise time of the system as whole to realise the required data rate. Such
estimation is known as rise-time budget calculations. Rise time analysis gives the effective
bandwidth of the optical link. The system rise time (t
) is calculated as a root mean
square value of the transmitter rise time (t
), the receiver rise time (t
) and the rise time
associated with the optical channel dispersion (D

L). D is the dispersion parameter,

is the spectral width of the optical source and L is the length of the optical link. That is:

For a satisfactory operation of the optical link, the system rise time should be less
than or equal to 70% of the bit duration (T
) at the specified data rate. That is:

The above relationship is true only for NRZ kind of data bits. For RZ kind of data
bits, the system rise time must be less than or equal to 0.35T
. if we now substitute
equation 25.4 into 25.3, we can rearrange the resultant equation to find an expression for
the maximum possible length of the optical fiber link under the limitation of dispersion. This
length is known as the rise time budget limited link length (L
). That is, beyond this
distance the signal distortion produced in the optical link becomes unacceptable at the
given BER.



Once again, the above relation assumes NRZ kind of data format; for RZ kind of
data, 0.7 has to be replaced with 0.35.
Equations 25.2 and 25.5 provide us with two different maximum lengths for the
same optical link. One is power budget limited and the other is rise time budget limited.
The power budget limited length signifies the distance at which the SNR of the signal

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 8

becomes almost unacceptable. N the other hand the rise time budget limited length
signifies the maximum distance upto which the distortion in the signal remains
manageable. In both the cases, at the calculated length a suitable signal processing is
extremely important so as to achieve the required BER. Hence, the minimum of the two
lengths is considered as the position of the repeater of the optical link and these repeaters
are installed at the length intervals of the minimum length. Generally, the power budget
limited length is smaller than the rise time budget limited and length and so the power
budget limited length determines the position of repeaters. An optical repeater is basically
an optical transmitter and an optical receiver put back-to-back with some additional signal
processing circuitry as shown below:

Figure 25.6: Optical Receiver
An optical repeater is a costly module as it incorporates both- an Optical Receiver
module and an Optical Transmitter module and also some additional signal processing
circuitry. That is why installation of optical repeaters at regular intervals of power budget
limited length, is rather an expensive option. However, due to non-availability of other
alternatives upto a decade ago, older optical links installed optical repeaters at regular
length intervals of the optical link to ensure reliable quality of performance of the system.
Careful thought shows that an optical repeater is necessary only where the signal
distortion of the transmitted signal becomes almost unmanageable. If the signal distortion
in the optical fiber is manageable and only the SNR of the transmitted signal deteriorates,
there is no need of using a repeater circuit merely to improve the SNR. An amplifier
installed at the location would serve the job. Only when the signal distortion becomes
almost unmanageable, a repeater may be used to rectify the anomalies.
Figure 25.7 below shows two graphical representation of the preferable and
economic optical source-receiver combinations with respect to the data rate and the link
length. The second figure serves as a rather more comprehensive figure to determine the
best source-receiver combination based on the data rate of transmission and the distance
between the transmitter and receiver (link length).

Fiber Optics, Prof. R.K. Shevgaonkar, Dept. of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay Page 9

Figure 25.7(a)

Figure 25.7(b): The vertical columns signify transmission distances and the horizontal
rows signify data rates [SLED: Surface LED; LD: Laser Diode; MM: Multimode Fiber; GI:
Graded Index Fiber]
Figure 25.7(a) & (b): Transmission distance Vs Data rate plots
The above figures enable us to decide the appropriate source receiver combination
which best suits the intended application for which the optical link is designed.