Plastic Optical Fiber and Its Huge Potential in Optical Communication

Since the inception of lightwave optical communication with fiber, the focus has been on the technology for long-distance telecommunication applications. And that is why single mode glass optical fiber has been the most preferred channels for such applications.Because of the ever-increasing need for more bandwidth, the data communication market has risen to the forefront in fiber optic communication. After several rounds of competition with other technologies, Ethernet is obviously the winner for LAN networks.Silica-based multimode fiber is adopted to provide an inexpensive optical link with a combination of transceivers based on Vertical Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSELs).However it is not the best solution to distribute such a silica-based optical fiber even in premises and home networks or interconnections.Why? Plastic optical fiber (POF), with its its large core, has been expected to be the office and home network media. Plastic optical fiber’s large core allows the use of cheap injection-molded plastic connectors which can significantly lower the total link cost.But POF has its own problems. The most important obstacle is plastic fiber’s high signal loss (attenuation). PMMA has been used as the light guiding core for commercially available step-index POF and PMMA’s attenuation is about 100 dB/km. This high attenuation significantly limits POF’s applications in data communication applications of more than 100m.Here is the good news though. Developers have found that PF amorphous polymer based gradient-index plastic optical fibers eliminate the attenuation problem with PMMA based plastic fiber. They have developed PF-polymer based Gradient-Index (GI) POF with attenuation level of only 10 dB/km. Based on theoretical calculation, PF-polymer based GI POF can achieve similar level of attenuation as silica-based glass fiber of 0.3dB/km.With a optimized refractive-index profile in the PF-polymer based GI POF, more than 10Gb/s data transmission speed can be achieved over 1km. This is the metrics of PF-polymer’s low intrinsic loss and low material dispersion.Combined with this theoretically possible high bandwidth and low total link cost, PF-Polymer based gradient-index plastic optical fiber has a huge potential in fiber optic data communication applications.