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A Few Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a fiber media converter?
A fiber media converter is a media converter where one of its two parts is fiber Ethernet, and the other is copper Ethernet.
2. Are media converters always used in pairs?
No. Media converters are often connected directly to the network switch, in which case, only one media converter is needed. However, it is important to note that many media converters are designed to work in pairs. For example, Very High Bit Digital Subscriber Line (VDSL) media converters send Ethernet traffic over existing cables for extended distances. In this type of application, media converters are used on both sides of the link to provide full compatibility and optimal performance.
3. What is a PoE media converter?
Power over Ethernet media converters offer power and data over a single cable AND a copper-to-fiber solution to PoE-compliant devices, such as IP cameras, VoIP phones, and wireless access points (WAPs).
4. Are media converters suitable for government use?
Yes—as long as they meet Trade Agreement Act (TAA) and National Defense Authority Act (NDAA) requirements.
What is a Media Converter?
IT professionals are constantly urged to provide faster data transmission over longer distances. The media converter has a vital role in solving these network interconnection challenges. This article defines what a media converter is, what types are available, and how to use them.
The Media Converter
A media converter (also known as a fiber media converter) is a networking device that converts all types of networks from one cable type to another—usually, copper Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) to fiber. This flexible and low-cost piece of equipment is often used in pairs to insert a fiber segment into a copper network to increase the cabling distance. Typically, it connects powered devices (PDs) located beyond 100 meters from the nearest switch.
A media converter typically has two ports—one port is equipped with a copper interface, while the other has a fiber interface. The distance extension is achieved using a fiber connection from the switch and a media converter to connect to the PD. As a result, the network experiences the extended connection as just another Ethernet link like any other. However, the newly established longer reach means expensive new switches do not need to be added to the system.
Why Media Converters are Important
Most switches contain copper Ethernet local area network (LAN) ports. These copper-based ports connect PDs within a range limit of 100 meters (328 feet). This network design works well until it requires a PD to be located more than 100 meters from the switch. For example, a wireless access point (WAP) needs to be placed in an outdoor area, or a surveillance camera should be installed. A media converter is the perfect solution for situations like these.
Other Features of the Media Converter
Media converters are not only economical but are also highly versatile. In fact, they are often called the “Swiss army knife” of networking. Other features include:
- Media converters are also available as Physical Layer (Layer 1) and Data Link Layer (Layer 1) switching devices.
- Media converters can provide advanced switching features like rate-switching and Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) tagging.
- Media converters can convert wavelengths from Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) applications.
- Media converters can support such sophisticated functions as Quality of Service (QoS) prioritization, port access control, and bandwidth control.
- While media converters are pretty inexpensive, they help the bottom line in other ways. Media converters enable connectivity between existing servers, switches, and hubs. This reduces capital equipment expenditures. Also, operating expenses can be reduced because media converters provide remote network configuration and troubleshooting in remote areas.
The Benefits of a Media Converter
Enterprise networks can become quite complex. They seem to need an ever-growing number of devices and require more bandwidth, higher speeds, and more extended distance connectivity. Media converters provide solutions to these types of challenges. They support a wide variety of protocols, data rates, and media types that assist in the creation of reliable, cost-effect networks. Media converters have many benefits for the 21st-century business, such as:
- Expansion of a LAN with fiber: As mentioned above, copper-based Ethernet UTP cables are limited to 100 meters (328 feet). Media converters enable an Ethernet to fiber conversion that can extend a network distance up to 80 kilometers (49.7 miles) or more.
- Can be used with existing equipment: Media converters can be used with existing copper-based hardware. Therefore, the network will not need an expensive and time-consuming infrastructure overhaul when installing a media converter.
- Data protection: Electromagnetic interference (EMI) can be an issue when sending data over copper-based Ethernet cables. Whereas data transmitted over fiber optic cable is entirely immune to EMI. The media converter’s use of fiber ensures top-notch data transmission.
- Speed conversion: Media converters allow the conversion of link speeds from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps—or from 100 Mbps to 1000 Mbps.
- Power over Ethernet: Many media converters use Power over Ethernet technology, which has several benefits itself. More about PoE later.
Types of Media Converters
There are several types of media converters from which to choose. Following is a look at the different types of media converters.
Standard Media Converters
Standard media converters are simple, straightforward devices. These media converters are ideal for start-ups and small companies that need uncomplicated devices.
PoE Media Converters
PoE media converters use Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology which transmits both power and data over a single Ethernet cable simultaneously. PoE media converters are also used to connect and power remote network devices such as wireless access points (WAPs) and security cameras.
Enterprise Media Converters
The term “enterprise network” signifies an IT infrastructure that serves the goals of midsize to large organizations. Thus, enterprise media converters are designed to meet the connectivity needs of these more extensive networks by enabling them to extend the network range using existing network infrastructure. Enterprise media converters are available in both standard and mini sizes.
Industrial Media Converters
Businesses that function in harsh environments use industrial media converters specially designed to withstand the rigors of extreme temperatures, dust, moisture, EMI, etc. These niche media converters come in hardened casings that enable them to survive rugged conditions.
Carrier Ethernet Media Converters
Also known as CE media converters, carrier Ethernet media converters are predominantly used to extend Ethernet to provide connectivity to Wide Area Networks (WANs). The latest standard, called CE 2, is used to extend connectivity or bridge different network types.
Micro Media Converters
Micro media converters (also known as mini or miniature) are simple, cost-effective, and compact. They integrate copper and fiber equipment in a network infrastructure. This device’s small size makes it quite popular in large network environments.
Types of Conversion
Media converters support the following conversion types:
- Copper-to-Copper: Media converters can act as extenders and can function as an interface between different network standards. These units can use existing network infrastructure to extend the reach of a network.
- Copper-to-Fiber: This type transforms the electrical pulses used in copper networks into light pulses used in fiber optics and is most commonly used to extend the reach of a network beyond 100 meters.
- Fiber-to-Fiber: These media converters facilitate the conversion of different wavelengths. They ensure connectivity between single-mode (SM) and multi-mode (MM) and between single-fiber and dual fibers.
Media Converters Come in Different Forms
Media converters are available in two different forms:
- Stand-Alone Media Converters: Stand-alone media converters are simple conversion units that enable the connection between copper and fiber cabling. These flexible devices can be installed anywhere they are needed. They are compact, easy to install, and are typically used to connect remote workstations or WAPs. In addition, these converters are equipped with auto-MDI/MDI-X, auto-negotiation, active link passthrough, and automatic link restoration.
- Chassis-Based Media Converters: Chassis-based media converters are especially suited for enterprise networks that have high-density areas (such as LAN wiring closets and switching rooms) where flexibility is needed to mix and match cable and network types. These devices are mounted on racks alongside legacy network switches.
Features to Consider When Choosing a Media Converter
Differing protocols can further distinguish media converters.
- Unmanaged Media Converters: This type of media converter is a “plug-and-play” device that enables simple communication between network devices. It has no monitoring or management functions and is best suited for a small company with uncomplicated networking needs.
- Managed Media Converters: These advanced media converters have features such as state-of-the-art network monitoring, fault detection, and remote configuration, which allows IT administrators to control data, bandwidth, and traffic. These units are more costly and preferred by enterprise networks and large data centers.
- Single-Mode Media Converters: Also known as “transverse” mode, single-mode media converters transmit light signals in only one direction. Their core dimensions range from nine microns to 105 microns, so these units have low attenuation.
- Multimedia Media Converters: These media converters transmit data in two or more directions. Because these devices have larger core diameters (from 50 microns to 125 microns), they have higher light dispersion and attenuation rates. They also do not transmit Radio Frequency (RF) signals. Multi-mode media converters are an excellent solution for LANs that have video streaming.
Commercial vs. Industrial Media Converters
Commercial media converters are used in office and data center applications. They enable the extension of a network’s distance while optimizing the performance of copper-based equipment. However, these media converters are not suitable for harsh or rugged environments.
In contrast, industrial media converters are specifically designed for harsh environmental conditions. These devices convert data between single-mode and multi-mode fiber optic and twisted-pair cables. They are encased in hardened enclosures and can withstand temperatures between -40°C to 75°C. Industrial media converters are used in applications such as:
- Factory automation
- Rail transit
- Water treatment
- Gas, etc.
Media Converter vs. Network Switch
There is some confusion between the media converter and a network switch. This is understandable as these two devices have something in common: They can connect with copper and fiber optic cables. However, these devices play different roles and even often work together in an Ethernet network.
Fiber media converters are most often used to extend a network over the 100-meter distance limitation of twisted-pair Ethernet cables. In contrast, a network switch has multiple ports that enable different PDs to communicate within a LAN. In other words, a network switch expands the number of PDs in the network. In addition, they control the data traffic between the PDs.
Media converters and network switches can also be used together. For example, when copper-based network switches need to be connected but have a transmission distance over 100 meters, a media converter is used to extend said distance by converting electrical signals into optical signals. In a nutshell; Fiber media converters convert copper to fiber to extend a LAN’s transmission distance, while the network switch connects PDs to communicate and share data.
Media Converter vs. Ethernet Extender
As previously mentioned, copper-based Ethernet transmission has a distance limitation of 100 meters. The media converter and Ethernet extender are both viable solutions for the challenges of extending network reach beyond 100 meters.
But, how are they different?
Media converters use copper-to-fiber conversion or fiber-to-fiber connections to extend the reach of networks. Fiber media converters add fiber cabling to legacy copper cabling systems—therefore, extending the life of existing cabling while adding new technology and network updates. They are typically used to connect telecommunication room switches to workstations in a large facility.
Meanwhile, Ethernet extenders (also called network extenders or LAN extenders) increase a network’s reach beyond the 100 distance limitation, employing various transmission technologies and physical media (such as wireless, copper wire, fiber-optic or coaxial cable).
Ethernet extenders significantly decrease the amount of labor and cabling involved with the installation. And while media converters produce the best performance for long-range networks, they are much more expensive than Ethernet extenders.
Media converters are essential and cost-effective networking devices used in every sector imaginable. These include:
- Data Center
- Large enterprises/organizations
- And more.