Network managers are pushed continuously to provide the transmission of data at faster speeds over longer distances. They also face the additional challenge of connecting different cable types (CAT5/6/7, coax, single-mode fiber, multi-mode fiber, etc.). Here is where the media converter enters the picture.

What is a media converter?

According to Techopedia, the definition of a media converter is as follows:

In the context of network hardware, a media converter is a cost-effective and flexible device intended to implement and optimize fiber links in every kind of network. Among media converters, the most often used type is a device that works as a transceiver, which converts the electrical signal utilized in copper unshielded twisted pair (UTP) network cabling to light waves used for fiber optic cabling. It is essential to have fiber optic connectivity if the distance between two network devices is greater than the copper cabling’s transmission distance.

The copper-to-fiber conversion carried out by a media converter allows two network devices having copper ports to be connected across long distances by means of fiber optic cabling.

The Benefits of Media Converters

Local Area Networks (LANs) are complicated. They need data to travel at higher speeds and longer distances. Media converters offer a solution to these challenges by providing fiber when required and smoothly integrating new equipment into an existing cable infrastructure. Media converters help create a reliable, cost-effective network. Here are the major benefits of a media converter:

  • Speed: Media converters help get tasks done in the quickest way possible.
  • A larger network: Media converters allow users to integrate new equipment into an existing cable infrastructure with increased quality and strength.
  • Cost-effective: Media converters integrate fiber and copper networks. Therefore, there is no need to install a great deal of expensive new infrastructure.
  • Less electromagnetic interference: With a media converter, the path between copper and fiber is gentle, reducing electromagnetic interference considerably.

Media Converter Benefits

Types of Media Converters

There are a variety of media converters on the market. To enable you to choose the right one for your network, we will discuss the different types of media converters that are available.

  • Standard Media Converters: This type of media converter is the simplest and is designed without a web interface. Standard media converters are perfect for start-ups or small companies that need simple devices.
  • PoE Media Converters: Power over Ethernet (PoE) media converters optimize using the Ethernet standard and supply power and data over a single cable. This media converter is typically used to power security cameras, IP phones, and wireless access points.
  • Enterprise Media Converters: These media converters connect different cables or media. These connectors allow enterprise networks to maximize the value of their existing network by 1) extending their distance, 2) extending the reach between two similar devices, or 3) extend the life of their non-fiber-based equipment. Enterprise media converters come in two sizes: standard and mini.
  • Hardened Media Converters: This type of media converter features a hard enclosure rated to an ingress protection (IP) scale. This type of construction protects the device from extreme temperatures, dirt, dust, moisture, etc. Hardened media converters connect different cable and media types (typically copper-to-fiber) in outdoor environments. They are also well suited for industrial applications that use fiber cables and have electromagnetic interference (EMI) noise challenges.
  • Carrier Ethernet Media Converters; Also known as CE media converters, these converters are mostly used to extend Ethernet to Wide Area Networks (WANs). CE media converters extend network connections or bridge different network types. The most recent CE media converter standard is called CE 2.
  • Miniature (Mini) Media Converters: Many times, network managers find it hard to add network services to applications like security cameras, tight areas, or areas where cabling does not exist. A mini media converter is the solution to this problem. These media converters are a simple conversion device that makes a connection between copper and fiber cables. Mini-media converters are especially helpful in tight areas with a small footprint. They are easy to install; just plug one in and walk away.

Media Converters Come in Different Forms

Media converters come in three different styles:

  • Chassis: Chassis-based media converters are designed for enterprise networks that use many cables—applications like data converters, LAN wiring closets, and switching rooms. These areas require a mix and match approach when dealing with different types of cables and networks. Chassis-based media converters are designed to support this type of high-density conversion.

MC-1610MR Media Converter Chassis

  • Slide-in Media Converter Cards: This form of media converter adds additional flexibility (mix and match) for high-density conversion. These media converters slide into the chassis and draw power from the backbone of the chassis. Slide-in media converters provide various ingress and egress ports to meet the needs of an enterprise network.
  • Standalone Media Converters: Standalone media converters are compact, easy to install, and save space and money. This form of media converter is fit for applications in environments with little space, such as telecommunication cabinets, distribution boxes, etc.

Unmanaged vs. Managed Media Converters

Another aspect to consider when choosing a media converter is whether it is unmanaged or managed. Here is a snapshot of each kind:

  • Unmanaged Media Converters: This type of media converter enables simple communication between two systems. These devices have no monitoring or fault detection functions and cannot set up network configuration. Unmanaged media converters are plug-and-play and can be used for start-ups, small businesses, or DIY fiber network cable installations.
  • Managed Media Converters: These advanced media converters have features such as network monitoring, remote configuration, and fault detection. These devices employ Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and support security protocols such as Secure Shell (SSH), Telnet, and Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).

Managed vs. Unmanaged Media Converter

Media Converter Modes

There is another way that media converters distinguish themselves—one the basis of transmission.

  • Single-Mode Media Converters: This media converter mode is also known as a transverse mode. They transmit light signals in only one direction. Single-mode media converters have low attenuation because they have core diameters that range from 9 microns up to 10.5 microns.
  • Multi-Mode Media Converters: In contrast to single-mode media converters, these media converters transmit signals in two or more directions. Multi-mode media converters have high light dispersion and authentication rates due to core diameters that range in the neighborhood of 50 to 62.5 microns.

Single-mode vs Multi-mode Fiber

Types of Conversion

Media converters employ one of these two major conversion categories:

  • Copper-to-Fiber Media Converters: These Ethernet copper-to-fiber media converters support IEEE 802.3 standards. A copper-to-fiber media converter provides connectivity to Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet devices.
  • Fiber-to-Fiber Media Converters: These media converters support the conversion of one wavelength to another. Fiber-to-fiber media converters can be used in applications such as Ethernet and Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM).

Last Thoughts

Choosing the right media converter can seem somewhat complicated. To help you decide if you need a media converter and if so, what type is best for you, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I concerned about distance?
  2. Am I concerned about interference?
  3. Do I need to move large amounts of data from point A to point B?
  4. What kind of network protocols do I need to support?
  5. Do I need management capabilities or can I do without them?
  6. What type of security concerns do I have?

And do not forget, before you select the media converter that is right for you, think about what network requirements you will have in the future. It is always wise to think ahead.