Polarization mode dispersion is recognized as a key factor limiting optical transmission systems, particularly those fiber links that run at bit rates beyond 10 Gbps. In-line test and characterization of polarization mode dispersion are thus of critical importance to evaluate the quality of installed optical fibers that are in use for high-speed signal traffics. However, polarization-based effects in optical fibers are stochastic and quite sensitive to a range of environmental changes, including optical cable movements. This, in turn, gives rise to undesired variations in light polarization that adversely impair the quality of the signal transmission in the link. In this work, we elaborate on experimental testing and theoretical analysis to asses changes of polarization mode dispersion in optical fibers that are caused by environmental variations, here wind gusts in particular. The study was performed on commercially harnessed optical fibers installed within optical power ground wire cables, taking into account different weather conditions. More specifically, we showed that changes caused by wind gusts significantly influence the differential group delay and the principal state of polarization in those optical fibers. For this, we experimentally measured a number of parameters to characterize light polarization properties. Measurements were carried out on C-band operated fiber-optic link formed by 111-km-long power ground wire cables and 88 spectral channels, with a test time step of 1 min during 12 consecutive days. Variations in differential group delay allowed for sensitive testing of environmental changes with measured maxims up to 10 ps under the worst wind conditions. Moreover, measured parameters were used in a numerical model to assess the quality of transmitted high-bit-rate optical signals as a function of wind conditions. The analysis revealed a negligible impact of wind on a 10 Gbps transmission, while substantial influence was noticed for higher bit rates up to 100 Gbps. These results show promises for efficient sensing of environmental changes and subsequent monitoring of the quality of recently used fiber-optic link infrastructures.
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