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Polymer Optical Fiber

Dr. Roberto Gaudino (senior member)
Ing. Silvio Abrate (ISMB staff)

Dr. Antonello Nespola

(ISMB staff)
  Currently funded on project POF-PLUS, started in May 2009 and currently active

Previous project : POF-ALL project, 2005-2008


Prof. Roberto Gaudino, through ISMB, was the coordinator of the EU FP6 IST project called "POF-ALL" (here is the project web-site) and is now the coordinator on the new project "POF-PLUS" in EU FP7 IST. The framework of the new project can be found in the POF-PLUS web site.

Shortly, POF-PLUS will study during its three years duration (2007-2009) the application of plastic optical fiber to very high speed domotic network. In particular, we will study gigabit and multi-gigabit per second transmission over thick and resilient plastic optical fibers.


An overview of the achievements we obtained in POF-ALL can be found in this paper.


Some general information on POF


Plastic Optical Fibers (POF) are today considered a sound option for wireline very high speed data transmission over distances in the range from a few to 200 meters, that is for typical Local Area Networks connections, for intra-vehicle links, and for Very Short Reach (VSR) interconnections. The use of POF is interesting for all applications where traditional solutions, such as copper wires or Glass Optical Fibers (GOF) are inadequate or too expensive. In the last years we see a rising international interest towards POF, as testified by an ample literature (see [1-19] and [chem1-chem9]), and by the increasing number of companies, even of remarkable size, who become involved in plastic fibers and related devices [2-6].

In terms of distance and transmission speed (bit rate), the performance of POF are potentially higher than what feasible with the best copper cables, while costs are significantly lower compared with a GOF system. Current (bitrate*distance) figure is about 100 Mbps for 100 meters for standard POFs [8], and over 1 Gbps across 1 km for advanced POF, with graded index (GI-POF [1,7]). Such performance is well above copper cabling, and open new application areas [9], as discussed later. Glass fibers giver higher performances, but with far higher cost. The manufacturing cost for POF is today comparable with that for multimodal GOF, but shows ample margins for improvements in case of mass production. Most of the actual savings of POF are related with installation costs. Namely, thanks to the wider cross section (15 times the GOF, that is 1 mm vs. 62,5 micron), installation and maintenance of a POF network can be carried out by technicians without specific tools and related training. A cutter and a piece of small grain grinding paper are the only tools needed to mount connectors. The current estimation is that a complete termination can be carried out in approx. 30 minutes.

A specific characteristic of fiber interconnection is the total insensitivity to electromagnetic interference (EMI). They are not subject to noise and interference from radio transmitters or other electrical appliances, and this increases the link reliability. For the same reasons, fibers do not radiate electric or magnetic fields, therefore they are free of health risk and do not contribute to electromagnetic environmental pollution. These characteristics show advantages over copper cables, which often require heavy and expensive shielding for use in electro-magnetically noisy environment.

Moreover, the use of a polymeric material instead of silica, and their wide diameter, give to POF (with respect to GOF) higher mechanical strength and the ability to withstand strong shocks and vibrations. Plastic fiber is tolerant to elongation, bending (the minimum curvature radius is only 20 mm), and torque. Thanks to these features, in most installation the wide, heavy and costly external coating needed for a GOF is not required. The weight of a standard POF is about 6 g/m, corresponding to one third of a GOF and one fourth of a UTP class 5 cable. The total diameter is only 2,2 mm; this feature and their very high flexibility make possible to route a GOF even through very narrow ducts.

Preliminary analysis estimate that the environmental impact for manufacturing is lower for POF than for copper or GOF; this argument is gaining high consideration for any industrial production, and contributes to lower the total lifecycle cost of a POF system.

As a carrier of light but not of electricity, the plastic fiber guarantees near perfect galvanic isolation. Its use is profitable whenever the systems to be connected have different potential, such as in power generation plants, when driving high power electronics, or in high-safety devices. For the same reason a fiber is intrinsically more safe than an insulated electric cable in case of risks related with electrical fields (e.g. with exploding gases or powder).

Fibers are typically used with visible-light and low power optical sources, and that makes possible to verify the connection continuity and fault location with a simple no-risk visual inspection. This is not possible with copper cables and GOF; these last use high power infrared light sources (Lasers), which are potentially very dangerous for the human eye.

All these characteristics make very interesting in the medium term the introduction of POFs in the following application areas:

- Industrial cabling [10]: as an alternative solution for traditional copper cabling, with great benefits expecially for the tolerance to electromagnetic interferences and the intrinsic galvanic isolation between transmitter and receiver (since ground loops are totally avoided). 

- Domotic applications [9]: several companies [2-6] are evaluating POF as transmission media for links within home networks, especially for high-end entertainment systems (interactive high definition video). A first step in this direction is the publication of the new High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) standard [12], for the interconnection at very high bit rate of high definition TV (bit rate up to 5 Gbps). 

- Local Area Networks: as an alternative to current copper cabling, especially when the previously described features of POF can be useful. 

- Automotive applications: current high-end cars, and the future drive-by-wire vehicles need a "data network" inside the vehicle, with high bandwidth and reliability. Several manufacturers are evaluating the use of POF, as testified by the MOST consortium [13], which gathers the main European car manufactures. In this context, the POF bring benefits towards copper cabling for the high immunity to electromagnetic disturbances and for the lower weight. Similar consideration apply to avionic applications [14]

- Other "niche" applications, difficult to evaluate beforehand, where the specific characteristics of POF can bring benefits. This applies for instance to any type of interconnection in hostile environment, or with specific safety needs (e.g. medical and life-support equipment). 

- The last example deals with two application areas, not addressed in this project, which have raised strong interest: the use of POF as sensing devices and for illuminating engineering (by the way, illumination is the first area of application for which POF were invented and built)

After these remarks on potential applications, we must specify that the commercial use of POF is still in his infancy, mainly for the following reasons: 

- Very poor knowledge of POF features, almost unknown in several areas. - Poor availability of complete POF transmission systems, balanced however by the increasing number of discrete devices for POF [2-6], which testifies that several companies bet on the future developments in this field. 

- Lack of complete demonstration testbeds, with a few exceptions in Japan [9] and Korea [15]

- Some negative technical features of POF, such as poor behavior at high temperatures (a critical issue for automotive and avionic applications), and high attenuation and dispersion. Improvements of these parameters can be achieved only through basic research in the field of polymeric materials, as indicated in the set of international references [chem1-chem9].

For these reason it is quite obvious to find several international research centers active in the field; more in detail: - Most activities are carried out in Japan, within or in connection to the most important (on a worldwide basis) research center, co-ordinated by Prof. Koike at the University of Tokio [1], and some companies such as Asashi Glass [2] and Mitsubishi [3]. In Japan [9] (as well as in Korea [15]), thanks to huge investments of the government, a few residential campuses are completely connected by POF, to demonstrate the real feasibility of this technology. - In Europe the most important centers are the POF Application center (POF-AC, [7]), involved in many research projects, the EITT consortium [16], and the Basque University in Spain [17]. The companies most active in POF applications are Nexans [4], mainly for industrial cabling, Firecomms [5] and Infineon for the development of optical POF components. - In U.S., besides the large consortium POF Trade Organization (POF-TO [18]), several big companies such as Agilent and Digital Optronics.are involved in the development of POF devices.

International Pubblications in this sector:


Introductory references on POF:

[1] T. Ishigure, Y. Koike, "Design of POF for Gigabit Transmission", POF Conf. 2003, pp. 2-5, Seattle, Sept 2003 

[2] Asashi Glass Co, Ltd., web site: www.agc.co.jp/english/index.html 

[3] Mitsubishi Rayon Co., Ltd., web site: www.mrc.co.jp/english 

[4] Nexans Co., web site: www.nexans.com 

[5] Firecomms Co., web site: www.firecomms.com 

[6] Luceat SpA, web site: www.luceat.it 

[7] O. Ziemann, J. Vinogradoc, E. Bluoss, "Gigabit per second data transmission over short POF links", POF Conf. 2003, pp. 20-23, Seattle, Sept 2003 

[8] H.P.A. van den Boom, W. Li, P.K. van Bennekom, I.T. Monroy, Giok-Djan Khoe, "High-capacity transmission over polymer optical fiber", IEEE J. Select. Topics in Quantum Electron., Vol. 7 , pp. 461-470, 2001 

[9] Yamazaki, S.; Shikada, M., "POF for high-speed PC and home networks", Optical Fiber Communication Conf. and Exhibit OFC '98., Technical Digest, 22-27 Feb. 1998 Pages:307 

[10] R. Beach, "Enabling next generation control networks with plastic optical fiber solutions", POF Conf. 2003, pp. 20-23, Seattle, Sept 2003 

[11] IEEE 1394 (Firewire) protocol,www.1394ta.org/Technology/index.htm 

[12] High Definition Multimedia Interface, www.hdmi.org 

[13] MOST Cooperation, www.mostnet.de 

[14] EU FP5 project: "MOTIFIES: Multimedia Optical-Plastic Technologies for In-Flight Entertainment", www.nmrc.ie/projects/motifes 

[15] J.W. Lee, "Realization of FTTH for the integration of telecommunication and broadcasting", POF Conf. 2003, pp. 20-23, Seattle, Sept 2003. 

[16] European Institute of Telecommunications Technology (EITT), web site: www.eitt.dk 

[17] G. Durana, J. Zubia, J. Arrue, "Study of polarization in plastic optical fibers", POF Conf. 2003, pp. 20-23, Seattle, Sept 2003. 

[18] POF Trade Organization (POF-TO), web site: www.pofto.com 

[19] C. Boulet, D. J. Webb, M. Douay, P. Niay, " Simultaneous interrogation of fiber Bragg grating sensors using an acoustooptic tunable filter", IEEE Photonic Tech. Letter, Vol. 13, no. 11, 2001. 

[20] Fastweb, web site: www.fastweb.it 

[21] Luciol Instruments, Ltd, web site: www.luciol.com [22] ST Microelectronics, web site: www.st.com

International papers dealing with polymers and materials for POF.

[chem1] Y. Koike, Y. Takezawa, Y. Ohtsuka, Appl. Opt. 1988, 27, 486 

[chem2] J. Zubia, J. Arrue, Opt. Fiber Tech. 2001, 7, 101 

[chem3] J. Masere, L.L. Lewis, J.A. Pojman, J. POlym. Sci. Polym Sci. 2001, 80, 686 

[chem4] T. Ishigure, M. Sato, A. Kondo, Y. Koike, J. Lightwave Technol. 20 (2002) 1443-1448 

[chem5] M. Zhou, Optical Engineering 41 (2002), 1631-1643 

[chem6] K. Kuriki, Y. Koike, Y. Okamoto, Chem. Rev. 102 (2002) 2347-2356 

[chem7] Li, G.Z.; Wang, L.; Toghiani, H.; Daulton, T.L.; Pittman Jr, C.U.; "Viscoelastic and mechanical properties of vinyl ester (VE)/multifunctional polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS) nanocomposites and multifunctional POSS-styrene copolymers" Polymer, 2002, 43 (15), pp. 4167-4176 

[chem8] Alexandre, M.; Dubois, P., "Polymer-layered silicate nanocomposites: preparation, properties and uses of a new class of materials", Materials Science and Engineering: R: Reports Vol: 28, Issue: 1 -2, 2000 pp. 1-63

[chem9] Marigo, A., Marega, C., Zannetti, R., Sgarzi, P., "A study of the lamellar thickness distribution in 1-butene, 4-methyl-1-pentene and 1-hexene LLDPE by small and wide angle X-ray scattering and transmission electron microscopy", Authors European Polymer Journal, 1998, 34(5-6), pp. 597-603

Main Results:
  • During the POF-ALL project (2005-2007) we developed a fully-functional 100 Mbit/s transmitter over 275 meters of plastic optical fibers, a "world-record" achievment as of 2007
  • Other partners of the POF-ALL project demostrated 1 Gbit/s trasmission over shorter distances, such as 50 meters, that are still suitable for domotic applications.
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last change: 21 settembre, 2012 15:46.