The basic structure of an optical fiber consists of three parts; the core, the cladding, and the coating or buffer. The basic structure of an optical fiber is shown in figure 2-9. The core is a cylindrical rod of dielectric material. Dielectric material conducts no electricity. Light propagates mainly along the core of the fiber. The core is generally made of glass. The core is described as having a radius of (a) and an index of refraction n1. The core is surrounded by a layer of material called the cladding. Even though light will propagate along the fiber core without the layer of cladding material, the cladding does perform some necessary functions.
The cladding layer is made of a dielectric material with an index of refraction n2. The index of refraction of the cladding material is less than that of the core material. The cladding is generally made of glass or plastic. The cladding performs the following functions:
- Reduces loss of light from the core into the surrounding air
- Reduces scattering loss at the surface of the core
- Protects the fiber from absorbing surface contaminants
- Adds mechanical strength
For extra protection, the cladding is enclosed in an additional layer called the coating or buffer. The coating or buffer is a layer of material used to protect an optical fiber from physical damage. The material used for a buffer is a type of plastic.
The buffer is elastic in nature and prevents abrasions. The buffer also prevents the optical fiber from scattering losses caused by microbends. Microbends occur when an optical fiber is placed on a rough and distorted surface.