Optical fiber cable is commonly available in 1-km sections; it is also available in longer sections, in some types up to 10 km or more. In any case there must be some way of
connecting the fiber to the source and to the detector as well as connecting the reels of cable together, whether in 1 km or more lengths, as required. There are two methods of connection, namely, splicing or using connectors. The objective in either case is to transfer as much light as possible through the coupling. A good splice couples more light than the best connectors. A good splice can have an insertion loss as low as 0.09 dB, whereas the best connector loss can be as low as 0.3 dB. An optical fiber splice requires highly accurate alignment and an excellent end finish to the fibers. There are three causes of loss at a splice:
1. Lateral displacement of fiber axes
2. Fiber end separation
There are two types of splice now available: the mechanical splice and the fusion splice. With a mechanical splice an optical matching substance is used to reduce splicing losses. The matching substance must have a refractive index close to the index of the fiber core. A cement with similar properties is also used, serving the dual purpose of refractive index matching and fiber bonding. The fusion splice, also called a hot splice, is where the fibers are fused together. The fibers to be spliced are butted together and heated with a flame or electric arc until softening and fusion occur.
Splices require special splicing equipment and trained technicians. Thus it can be seen that splices are generally hard to handle in a field environment such as a cable manhole. Connectors are much more amenable to field connecting. However, connectors are lossier and can be expensive. Repeated mating of a connector may also be a problem, particularly if dirt or dust deposits occur in the area where the fiber mating takes place.
However, it should be pointed out that splicing equipment is becoming more economic, more foolproof, and more user-friendly. Technician training is also becoming less of a burden.
Connectors are nearly universally used at the source and at the detector to connect the main fiber to these units. This makes easier change-out of the detector and source when they fail or have degraded operation.
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