A Quick Guide to Fiber Optic Power Meter

When installing and terminating fiber optic cables, you should always test them. Testing should be performed for every fiber optic cable installation for three main areas: continuity, loss, and power. And fiber optic power meters are among the essential tools in the toolkit to do just that. There are general-purpose, semi-automated power meters, as well as power meters optimized for certain types of networks, such as FTTx or LAN/WAN architectures. It's all a matter of choosing the right equipment for your needs.

Here is a quick guide to fiber optic power meters and how they work.

Optical power meters are commonly used to measure absolute light power in dBm. For the dBm measurement of light transmission power, proper calibration is essential. A fiber optic power meter is also used with an optical light source to measure loss or relative power level in dB. To calculate the power loss, the optical power meter is first connected directly to an optical transmission device via a fiber optic pigtail, and the signal strength is measured. Then, measurements are taken at the far end of the fiber cable.

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The fiber optic power meter detects the average power of a continuous light beam in a fiber optic network, tests the signal strength of laser or light-emitting diode (LED) sources. Light scattering can occur at many points in an array due to faults or misalignments; the wattmeter analyzes the high power beams of long-distance single-mode fibers and the low-power multi-beams of short-distance multimode fibers. Important specifications for fiber optic power meters include wavelength range, optical power range, power resolution, and power accuracy. Some devices are rack-mounted or portable. Others are designed for use on a bench or desk. Power meters that interface with computers are also available.

The fiber optic power meter is a special light meter that measures the amount of light coming out of the end of the fiber optic cable. The power meter must be able to measure light at the correct wavelength and over the correct power range. Most power meters used in data communication networks are designed to operate at 850 nm and 1300 nm. Power levels are modest, around –15 to –35 dBm for multimode links and 0 to –40 dBm for Singlemode links. Power meters can generally be fitted to a variety of connector styles such as SC, ST, FC, SMA, LC, MU, etc.

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Typically, multimode fiber is tested with 850nm and 1300nm LEDs, and single-mode fiber is tested with 1310nm and 1550nm lasers. The test source will typically be a multimode fiber LED unless the fiber is used for Gigabit Ethernet or other high-speed networks that use laser sources. LEDs can be used to test single-mode fibers less than 5000 meters long, while a laser should be used for long single-mode fibers.

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Most fiber optic power meters are calibrated in linear units such as milliwatts or microwatts. They can also provide measurements in decibels referenced to a milliwatt or microwatt of optical power. Typically, fiber optic power meters include a removable adapter for connections to other devices. By measuring average time instead of peak power, power meters remain sensitive to the duty cycle of digital pulse input streams.

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Use a fiber optic power meter and other useful fiber optic kits to ensure your fiber optic system runs smoothly.