Self-centering fiber alignment structures for high-precision field installable single-mode fiber connectors

J. Van Erps, E. Ebraert, F. Gao, M. Vervaeke, F. Berghmans, S. Beri, J. Watté, H. Thienpont
There is a steady increase in the demand for internet bandwidth, primarily driven by cloud services and high-definition video streaming. Europe's Digital Agenda states the ambitious objective that by 2020 all Europeans should have access to internet at speeds of 30Mb/s or above, with 50% or more of households subscribing to connections of 100Mb/s. Today however, internet access in Europe is mainly based on the first generation of broadband, meaning internet accessed over legacy telephone copper and TV cable networks. In recent years, Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) networks have been adopted as a replacement of traditional electrical connection for the `last mile' transmission of information at bandwidths over 1Gb/s. However, FTTH penetration is still very low (< 5%) in most major Western economies. The main reason for this is the high deployment cost of FTTH networks. Indeed, the success and adoption of optical access networks critically depend on the quality and reliability of connections between optical fibers. In particular a further reduction of insertion loss of field-installable connectors must be achieved without a significant increase in component cost. This requires precise alignment of fibers that can differ in terms of ellipticity, eccentricity or diameter and seems hardly achievable using today's widespread ferrule-based alignment systems. In this paper, we present a field-installable connector based on deflectable/compressible spring structures, providing a self-centering functionality for the fiber. This way, it can accommodate for possible fiber cladding diameter variations (the tolerance on the cladding diameter of G.652 fiber is typically ±0.7µm). The mechanical properties of the cantilever are derived through an analytical approximation and a mathematical model of the spring constant, and finite element-based simulations are carried out to find the maximum first principal stress as well as the stress distribution in the fiber alignment structure. Elastic constants of the order of 104 N/m are found to be compatible with a proof stress of 70 MPa. We show the successful prototyping of 3-spring fiber alignment structures using deep proton writing and investigate their compatibility with replication techniques such as hot embossing and injection moulding. Fiber insertion in our self-centering alignment structures is achieved by means of a dedicated interferometric setup allowing assessment of the fiber facet quality, of the fiber's position in relation to the connector's front and of the spring deformation during fiber insertion. These self-centering structures have the potential to become the basic building blocks for a new generation of field-installable connectors, ultimately breaking the current paradigm of ferrule-based connectivity requiring extensive pre-engineering and highly specialized manpower for field deployment.
Proc. SPIE, Micro-Optics 2014
Self-centering fiber alignment structures for high-precision field installable single-mode fiber connectors