Connector and splice loss is caused by a number of factors. Loss is minimized when the two fiber cores are identical and perfectly aligned, the connectors or splices are properly finished, and no dirt is present. Only the light that is coupled into the receiving fiber’s core will propagate, so all the rest of the light becomes the connector or splice loss.
End gaps cause two problems — insertion loss and return loss. The emerging cone of light from the connector will spill over the core of the receiving fiber and be lost. In addition, the air gap between the fibers causes a reflection when the light encounters the change in refractive index from the glass fiber to the air in the gap. This reflection (called “Fresnel” reflection) amounts to about 5 per-cent in typical flat polished connectors, and means that no connector with an air gap can have less than 0.3 dB loss. This reflection is also referred to as “back reflection” (or optical return loss), which can be a problem in laser-based systems. Connectors use a number of polishing techniques to ensure physical contact of the fiber ends to minimize back reflec- tion. On mechanical splices, it is possible to reduce back reflection by using non-perpendicular cleaves, which cause back reflections to be absorbed in the cladding of the fiber.
The end finish of the fiber must be properly polished to minimize loss. A rough surface will scatter light and dirt can scatter and absorb light. Since the optical fiber is so small, typical airborne dirt can be a major source of loss. Whenever connectors are not terminated, they should be covered to protect the end of the ferrule from dirt. Never touch the end of the ferrule, since the oils from contact with skin causes the fiber to attract dirt. Before connection and testing, it’s advisable to clean connectors with lint-free wipes moistened with isopropyl alcohol.
Two sources of loss are directional numerical aperture (NA) and core diameter. Differences in these two will create connections that have different losses depending on the direction of light propagation. Light from a fiber with a larger NA will be more sensitive to angularity and end gap, so transmission from a fiber of larger NA to one of smaller NA will be higher loss than the reverse. Likewise, light from a larger fiber will have high loss coupled to a fiber of smaller diameter, while one can couple a small diameter fiber to a large diame- ter fiber with minimal loss, since it is much less sensitive to end gap or lateral offset.
These fiber mismatches occur for two reasons. The occasional need to interconnect two dissimilar fibers and production variances in fibers of the same nominal dimensions. With two multimode fibers in usage today and two others that have been used occasionally in the past and several types of single-mode fiber in use, it is possible to sometimes have to connect dissimilar fibers or use systems designed for one fiber on another. Some system manufacturers provide guidelines on using various fibers, some don’t. If you connect a smaller fiber to a larger one, the coupling losses will be minimal, often only the Fresnel loss (about 0.3 dB). But connecting larger fibers to smaller ones results in substantial losses, not only due to the smaller cores size, but also the smaller NA of most small core fibers.
[Source: VDV Works]