Several Variable Optical Attenuator Introduction

Variable optical attenuator (VOA) has a wide range of applications in optical communication, and its main function is to reduce or control the optical signal.

The basic characteristics of fiber optic network should be Variable, especially with the application of DWDM transmission systems and EDFA in optical communication, it must be carried out in a plurality of optical signal on the transmission channel gain flattening or equalization, channel power in the optical receiver. The side to be dynamic saturation control, optical networks also need to control for other signals, making the VOA become indispensable key components. In addition, VOA also can be combined with other optical communication components and this pushed itself to the characteristics of the high-level module.

In recent years, there appeared many technologies on manufacture of variable optical attenuator, including mechanical VOA, magneto-optical VOA, LCD VOA, MEMS VOA, thermo-optic VOA and acousto-optic VOA.

Mechanical VOA
The principle is to use a stepper motor drag neutral gradient filter, its output optical power at a predetermined attenuation rule change when the different positions of the light beam passes through the filter, so as to achieve the purpose of adjusting the amount of attenuation. There is also a mechanical polarized optical attenuator. Its basic principle is that the light beam emitted from the ingress port reflected by the reflection sheet to the port, the the reflector coupling efficiency between the two ports by the inclination angle of the reflection sheet to the control, enabling adjustment of the light attenuation. The inclination of the reflection sheet from a variety of different mechanisms to control. Mechanical type optical attenuator is more traditional solutions, so far, the VOA application in the system most used mechanical method to achieve attenuation. The type of optical attenuator with mature technology, optical properties, low insertion loss, polarization dependent loss, without temperature control, etc.; disadvantage is that the larger, more complex structure components, the response rate is not high, it is difficult to automate the production is not conducive to integration.

Magneto-optical VOA
Magneto-optical VOA is the use of some of the substances in the magnetic field is shown by the changes in optical properties, such as magnetic rotation effect (Faraday effect) can also be achieved attenuation of the light energy, so as to achieve the purpose of adjusting the optical signal. The magneto-optical effect of the material and in combination with other techniques, you can create a high performance, small size, high response and the structure is relatively simple optical attenuator. This is LLL device using discrete technology to produce the optical attenuator to be a further development of the field.

Utilizing a liquid crystal refractive index anisotropy in the liquid crystal VOA shows birefringence. When an external electric field is applied, the orientation of the liquid crystal molecules are rearranged, will result in the change in its transmission characteristics. The type of attenuation can be achieved by light intensity change of the type of voltage control is applied to the two electrodes in the liquid crystal. The liquid crystal optical attenuator VOA can achieve the miniaturization and high response. But at the same time the liquid crystal material into a larger loss, the production process is relatively more complex, in particular, is influenced by environmental factors, its advantage is a low cost, there are commercial batch.

MEMS is the technology of the new applications in this area, After several years of development, the MEMS chip production process has become more mature, a strong impetus to the application of the MEMS optical attenuator. Optical network applications, MEMS technology-based products also have the obvious advantage on price and performance. MEMS VOA has been very mature, and mass production and large-scale application. Because of yield problems, in terms of price also facing challenges In addition, micro-electro-mechanical components, reliability is sometimes less than ideal. The early MEMS VOA using laser welding, into a larger device, and the production efficiency is low, and high assembly costs. Currently, the market also introduced a MEMS VOA plastic technology, a good solution to this problem.

Thermo-optic VOA
Thermo-optic VOA mainly using some of the material changes in the optical properties of temperature field characteristics, such as temperature changes caused by the thermo-optical refractive index change. According to the structure of the different, can be divided into two categories, leak-and open-light type VOA. Thermo-optic VOA due to heating, cooling device is relatively complex, a function of the mathematical relationship between the temperature field photoconductive medium refractive index is complex and difficult to accurately quantify and control, especially the longer response time hindered its application in modern optical communication .

Acousto-optic VOA
The basic principle is to use the cyclical strain, resulting in a periodic variation of the refractive index, equal to create a phase grating for the acousto-optical crystal in the generated under the action of ultrasonic waves, and so can be modulated using the raster beam. Some companies have already claimed to have developed the acousto-optical crystal variable attenuator (called the AVOA). It is understood that the acquisition of the acousto-optic crystal material is no problem, but at this stage of the total cost is high, about 4-5.


Variable optical attenuator is one of important optical devices in the optical communication system. Over the years, it has been stuck at a mechanical level. Because its size is not conducive to integration, it is generally only suitable for single-channel attenuation. With the development of DWDM system, as well as market the flexibility to upgrade reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) potentially huge demand, there need more channels and small size variable optical attenuator array, in particular the integrated VOA product. Traditional mechanical methods can not solve these problems. With the development of fiber optic network, VOA’s development trends are: low cost, highly integrated, fast response time as well as integration of hybrid with other optical communication devices.