What are multimode fibers?

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- GoPhotonics

Jun 13, 2022

Multi-mode fibers are those fibers that allow the propagation of more than one mode through it.

The allowed angles inside a fiber or the modes of a fiber depend on various factors, like, the wavelength of the incident light inside the fiber, the angle at which the ray is incident at the core-cladding interface, and also the diameter of the core of the fiber

The ray of light which comes within the acceptance angle can propagate inside an optical fiber. But all the rays which enter the fiber cannot sustain inside it. This is because the rays which propagate via total internal reflection through the fiber may interfere among themselves. So only certain allowed angles of incidence which can constructively interfere inside the fiber can sustain inside it. These specific angles correspond to the Modes of the system. 

Fiber is categorized as a single-mode or multimode based on a factor known as the V number or normalized frequency, which is a dimensionless quantity that determines the number of modes in an optical fiber. It is defined as,

We know that the numerical aperture of fiber is given by,

where n1 and n2 correspond to the refractive indices of the core and cladding of the fiber respectively and a is the radius of the core of the fiber.

Relative refractive index of any medium is the refractive index of that medium with respect to any other medium. Here we define the relative refractive index as the refractive index of the core with respect to the cladding refractive index. It is given by,

So rewriting NA in terms of the relative refractive index, we get,

So we can write, 

On generalizing,  

Here we take n as the core refractive index.

In a multimode optical fiber, we transmit more than one mode through the fiber. From the above equation, it is clear that the V number varies with the core diameter and the wavelength of the incident light. 

If the V number is less than 2.405, it is seen that optical fiber can support only single-mode and if the V number is greater, then the fiber can support multiple modes. So for an optical fiber to support multimode operation, the V number should be greater than or equal to 2.405. This is achieved by adjusting the core radius of the fiber. So, multimode fibers usually have a larger core radius. Many modes can be simultaneously propagated through a multimode fiber and the output is an overlap of all the propagating modes.

The total number of modes of an optical fiber is given by,