What are Polarization-Maintaining Fibers?

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This article describes the working principles of PM fibers and their applications. Fiber-Mart can supply PM Fiber Patch Cables. If you have any questions or requirement of PM Fiber Patch Cables, welcome to contact us: product@fiber-mart.com.

What is Polarization?

Light is a type of electromagnetic wave. It consists of oscillating electrical fields, denoted by E, and magnetic fields, denoted by B. Its properties can be described by studying its electrical field E, although we could just as well describe light and its effects in terms of the magnetic field.

Light waves can vibrate in many directions. Those that are vibrating in one direction – in a single plane such as up and down – are called polarized light. Those that are vibrating in more than one direction – in more than one plane such as both up/down and left/right – are called unpolarized light.

Principle of PM Fiber

Provided that the polarization of light launched into the fiber is aligned with one of the birefringent axes, this polarization state will be preserved even if the fiber is bent. The physical principle behind this can be understood in terms of coherent mode coupling. The propagation constants of the two polarization modes are different due to the strong birefringence, so that the relative phase of such copropagating modes rapidly drifts away. Therefore, any disturbance along the fiber can effectively couple both modes only if it has a significant spatial Fourier component with a wavenumber which matches the difference of the propagation constants of the two polarization modes. If this difference is large enough, the usual disturbances in the fiber are too slowly varying to do effective mode coupling. Therefore, the principle of PM fiber is to make the difference large enough.

In the most common optical fiber telecommunications applications, PM fiber is used to guide light in a linearly polarised state from one place to another. To achieve this result, several conditions must be met. Input light must be highly polarised to avoid launching both slow and fast axis modes, a condition in which the output polarization state is unpredictable.

The electric field of the input light must be accurately aligned with a principal axis (the slow axis by industry convention) of the fiber for the same reason. If the PM fiber path cable consists of segments of fiber joined by fiber optic connectors or splices, rotational alignment of the mating fibers is critical. In addition, connectors must have been installed on the PM fibers in such a way that internal stresses do not cause the electric field to be projected onto the unintended axis of the fiber.

Types of PM Fibers

Circular PM Fibers

It is possible to introduce circular-birefringence in a fiber so that the two orthogonally polarized modes of the fiber—the so called Circular PM fiber—are clockwise and counter-clockwise circularly polarized. The most common way to achieve circular-birefringence in a round (axially symmetrical) fiber is to twist it to produce a difference between the propagation constants of the clockwise and counterclockwise circularly polarized fundamental modes. Thus, these two circular polarization modes are decoupled. Also, it is possible to conceive externally applied stress whose direction varies azimuthally along the fiber length causing circular-birefringence in the fiber. If a fiber is twisted, a torsional stress is introduced and leads to optical-activity in proportion to the twist.

Linear PM Fibers

There are manily two types of linear PM fibers which are single-polarization type and birefringent fiber type. The single-polarization type is characterized by a large transmission loss difference between the two polarizations of the fundamental mode. And the birefringent fiber type is such that the propagation constants between the two polarizations of the fundamental mode are significantly different. Linear polarization may be maintained using various fiber designs which are reviewed next.

Linear PM Fibers With Side Pits and Side Tunnels:

Side-pit fibers incorporate two pits of refractive index less than the cladding index, on each side of the central core. This type of fiber has a W-type index profile along the x-axis and a step-index profile along the y-axis. A side-tunnel fiber is a special case of side-pit structure. In these linear PM fibers, a geometrical anisotropy is introduced in the core to obtain a birefringent fibers.

Linear PM Fibers With Stress Applied Parts:

An effective method of introducing high birefringence in optical fibers is through introducing an asymmetric stress with two-fold geometrical symmetry in the core of the fiber. The stress changes the refractive index of the core due to photoelastic effect, seen by the modes polarized along the principal axes of the fiber, and results in birefringence. The required stress is obtained by introducing two identical and isolated Stress Applied Parts (SAPs), positioned in the cladding region on opposite sides of the core. Therefore, no spurious mode is propagated through the SAPs, as long as the refractive index of the SAPs is less than or equal to that of the cladding.

The most common shapes used for the SAPs are: bow-tie shape and circular shape. These fibers are respectively referred to as Bow-tie Fiber and PANDA Fiber. The cross sections of these two types of fibers are shown in the figure below. The modal birefringence introduced by these fibers represents both geometrical and stress-induced birefringences. In the case of a circular-core fiber, the geometrical birefringence is negligibly small. It has been shown that placing the SAPs close to the core improves the birefringence of these fibers, but they must be placed sufficiently close to the core so that the fiber loss is not increased especially that SAPs are doped with materials other than silica. The PANDA fiber has been improved further to achieve high modal birefringence, very low-loss and low cross-talk.

PANDA Fiber (left) and Bow-tie Fiber (right). The built-in stress elements made from a different type of glass are shown with a darker gray tone.

Tips: At present the most popular PM fiber in the industry is the circular PANDA fiber. One advantage of PANDA fiber over most other PM fibers is that the fiber core size and numerical aperture is compatible with regular single mode fiber. This ensures minimum losses in devices using both types of fibers.

Linear PM Fibers With Elliptical Structures:

The first proposal on practical low-loss single-polarization fiber was experimentally studied for three fiber structures: elliptical core, elliptical clad, and elliptical jacket fibers. Early research on elliptical-core fibers dealt with the computation of the polarization birefringence. In the first stage, propagation characteristics of rectangular dielectric waveguides were used to estimate birefringence of elliptical-core fibers. In the first experiment with PM fiber, a fiber having a dumbbell-shaped core was fabricated. The beat length can be reduced by increasing the core-cladding refractive index difference. However, the index difference cannot be increased too much due to practical limitations. Increasing the index difference increases the transmission loss, and splicing would become difficult because the core radius must be reduced. Typical values of birefringence for the elliptical core fiber are higher than elliptical clad fiber. However, losses were higher in the elliptical core than losses in the elliptical clad fibers.

Linear PM Fibers With Refractive Index Modulation:

One way to increase the bandwidth of single-polarization fiber, which separates the cutoff wavelength of the two orthogonal fundamental modes, is by selecting a refractive-index profile which allows only one polarization state to be in cutoff. High birefringence was achieved by introducing an azimuthal modulation of the refractive index of the inner cladding in a three-layer elliptical fiber. A perturbation approach was employed to analyze the three-layer elliptical fiber, assuming a rectangular-core waveguide as the reference structure. Examination of birefringence in three-layer elliptical fibers demonstrated that a proper azimuthal modulation of the inner cladding index can increase the birefringence and extend the wavelength range for single-polarization operation.

Applications of PM Fibers

PM fibers are applied in devices where the polarization state cannot be allowed to drift, e.g. as a result of temperature changes. Examples are fiber interferometers and certain fiber lasers. A disadvantage of using such fibers is that usually an exact alignment of the polarization direction is required, which makes production more cumbersome. Also, propagation losses are higher than for standard fiber, and not all kinds of fibers are easily obtained in polarization-preserving form.

PM fibers are used in special applications, such as in fiber optic sensing, interferometry and quantum key distribution. They are also commonly used in telecommunications for the connection between a source laser and a modulator, since the modulator requires polarized light as input. They are rarely used for long-distance transmission, because PM fiber is expensive and has higher attenuation than single mode fiber.

Requirments for Using PM Fibers

Termination: When PM fibers are terminated with fiber connectors, it is very important that the stress rods line up with the connector, usually in line with the connector key.

Splicing: PM fiber also requires a great deal of care when it is spliced. Not only the X, Y and Z alignment have to be perfect when the fiber is melted together, the rotational alignment must also be perfect, so that the stress rods align exactly.

Another requirement is that the launch conditions at the optical fiber end face must be consistent with the direction of the transverse major axis of the fiber cross section.

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