Why is MFD an important coupling parameter for single mode fibers?
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Figure 1 For maximum coupling efficiency into single mode fibers, the light should be an on-axis Gaussian beam with its waist located at the fiber's end face, and the waist diameter should equal the MFD. The beam output by the fiber also resembles a Gaussian with these characteristics. In the case of single mode fibers, the ray optics model and NA are inadequate for determining coupling conditions. The mode intensity (I ) profile across the radius ( ρ ) is illustrated.
As light propagates down a single mode fiber, the beam maintains a cross sectional profile that is nearly Gaussian in shape. The mode field diameter (MFD) describes the width of this intensity profile. The better an incident beam matches this intensity profile, the larger the fraction of light coupled into the fiber. An incident Gaussian beam with a beam waist equal to the MFD can achieve particularly high coupling efficiency.
Using the MFD as the beam waist in the Gaussian beam propagation model can provide highly accurate incident beam parameters, as well as the output beam's divergence.
Determining Coupling Requirements
A benefit of optical fibers is that light carried by the fibers' guided mode(s) does not spread out radially and is minimally attenuated as it propagates. Coupling light into one of a fiber's guided modes requires matching the characteristics of the incident light to those of the mode. Light that is not coupled into a guided mode radiates out of the fiber and is lost. This light is said to leak out of the fiber.
Single mode fibers have one guided mode, and wave optics analysis reveals the mode to be described by a Bessel function. The amplitude profiles of Gaussian and Bessel functions closely resemble one another , which is convenient since using a Gaussian function as a substitute simplifies the modeling the fiber's mode while providing accurate results.
Figure 1 illustrates the single mode fiber's mode intensity cross section, which the incident light must match in order to couple into the guided mode. The intensity (I ) profile is a near-Gaussian function of radial distance ( ρ ). The MFD, which is constant along the fiber's length, is the width measured at an intensity equal to the product of e-2 and the peak intensity. The MFD encloses ~86% of the beam's power.
Since lasers emitting only the lowest-order transverse mode provide Gaussian beams, this laser light can be efficiently coupled into single mode fibers.
Coupling Light into the Single Mode Fiber
To efficiently couple light into the core of a single-mode fiber, the waist of the incident Gaussian beam should be located at the fiber's end face. The intensity profile of the beam's waist should overlap and match the characteristics of the mode intensity cross section. The required incident beam parameters can be calculated using the fiber's MFD with the Gaussian beam propagation model.
The coupling efficiency will be reduced if the beam waist is a different diameter than the MFD, the cross-sectional profile of the beam is distorted or shifted with respect to the modal spot at the end face, and / or if the light is not directed along the fiber's axis.
 Andrew M. Kowalevicz Jr. and Frank Bucholtz, Beam Divergence from an SMF-28 Optical Fiber (NRL/MR/5650--06-8996) (Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC, 2006).