The attenuation or transmission loss of optical fibers has proved to be one of the most important factors in bringing about their wide acceptance in telecommunications. As channel attenuation largely determined the maximum transmission distance prior to signal restoration, optical fiber communications became especially attractive when the transmission losses of fibers were reduced below those of the competing metallic conductors (less than 5 dB km−1).
Signal attenuation within optical fibers, as with metallic conductors, is usually expressed in the logarithmic unit of the decibel. The decibel, which is used for comparing two power levels, may be defined for a particular optical wavelength as the ratio of the input (transmitted) optical power Pi into a fiber to the output (received) optical power Po from the fiber as:
This logarithmic unit has the advantage that the operations of multiplication and division reduce to addition and subtraction, while powers and roots reduce to multiplication and division. However, addition and subtraction require a conversion to numerical values which may be obtained using the relationship:
In optical fiber communications the attenuation is usually expressed in decibels per unit length (i.e. dB km−1) following:
where αdB is the signal attenuation per unit length in decibels which is also referred to as the fiber loss parameter and L is the fiber length. A number of mechanisms are responsible for the signal attenuation within optical fibers. These mechanisms are influenced by the material composition, the preparation and purification technique, and the waveguide structure. They may be categorized within several major areas which include material absorption, material scattering (linear and nonlinear scattering), curve and microbending losses, mode coupling radiation losses and losses due to leaky modes.