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Educational Optical Fiber Data Communications Toolkit

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Instrumentation and Laboratory Systems

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.462.1 - 13.462.15



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Paper Authors


Jonathan Hill University of Hartford

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Dr. Jonathan Hill is an assistant professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture (CETA) at the University of Hartford, located in Connecticut. Ph.D. and M.S. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University. Previously an applications engineer with the Networks and Communications division of Digital Corporation. His interests involve embedded microprocessor based systems.

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Akram Abu-aisheh University of Hartford

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Dr. Akram Abu-aisheh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut. He has a Ph.D. in Optical Communications from the Florida Institute of Technology and MS. and B.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida. He has seven years work experience as a Senior Fiber optic communications Test Process Engineer at Tyco Telecommunications, and his main research interests are in the areas of power electronics and fiber optic communications.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Educational Optical Fiber Data Communications Toolkit


The use of optical fiber is certainly a significant recent technological advance that provides very high quality communications over great distances. Given the now common use of optical fiber in the industry and high-end consumer electronics, the use of optical fiber should be more widely taught. Certainly, the availability of low-cost plastic fiber, detectors, and data communications grade light emitting diodes (LEDs) makes suitable educational materials within financial reach.

Unfortunately, the use of optical fiber is still a curiosity in undergraduate data communications courses. Perhaps a missing element is the availability of practical examples that demonstrate complete data links. In addition to the actual fiber and optics, transmitter and receiver electronics are required, as well as devices to encode, decode, and retime digital data. With data rates over inexpensive plastic fiber reaching into the multi-megabit per second rate, traditional asynchronous communications methods are no longer appropriate. Synchronous techniques like that used with higher speed glass optical fiber data links are needed.

This research presents a toolkit that we intend to have students use to investigate the physical layer in an optical fiber based network. The required test gear includes a multimeter and an oscilloscope. Given our use of photo diodes, an optical power meter is entirely optional. At the core of the toolkit is the optical fiber toolkit adapter card which provides the transmitter and receiver electronics. The adapter board attaches to an off-the-shelf field programmable gate array (FPGA) development board, which provides the digital aspect of the data link.

The first audience we are addressing is undergraduate technology students. As such the design goal of the toolkit is to provide a system that clearly demonstrates functionality, allowing students to investigate all aspects of the system. The choice of using an FPGA provides a level of flexibility, allowing the toolkit to be used in other curriculum as well. Further, with a soft- core processor, the toolkit can be used to implement a modest microprocessor system. It is our intent that the fiber optic toolkit will be useful in undergraduate classroom or laboratory settings, as well as in independent projects. The toolkit is being used with students during the spring 2008 semester. Preliminary results will be available for the 2008 ASEE convention and all documentation for the toolkit is freely available on the project website1.


Optical fiber technology provides very high quality data communications over great distances. With the growing and now common use of optical fiber in industry and high-end consumer electronics, the use of optical fiber should be more widely taught. For this purpose we are developing an educational optical fiber data communications toolkit that provides students with the means to investigate the physical layer in such a network. We first used the toolkit during the spring 2008 semester. The components and fiber are inexpensive and convenient to use. Despite modest performance in comparison to glass fiber, plastic fiber provides an inexpensive

Hill, J., & Abu-aisheh, A. (2008, June), Educational Optical Fiber Data Communications Toolkit Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4395

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