Are you a network manager or a person working in IT? Have you ever had a need to extend your network infrastructure, but knew that your current cabling could not support the additional length and speeds required? If so, this is a common situation that many people find themselves in now a days. Today, we’re going to talk about fiber optic media converters and fiber switches and specifically how they can help you extend your network range, future proof your network speed, and revolutionize the way you manage your data.

So what exactly is a media converter anyway? What is a switch? Well, to start, a media converter is a simple networking device that makes it possible to connect two unlike media types, such as copper and fiber. A switch is a device that connects other devices within a network. You can also connect multiple data cables into a switch to allow communication between other networked devices. Fiber switches can manage the flow of data on a network by receiving and transmitting messages to other networked devices. Each networked device that’s connected to a switch can be identified, allowing the switch to control the flow of traffic. But before we jump into more of the details on each of these, I think it’s important for us to understand the basic differences of the network structures that are popular today.

There are really two main types of fiber optic network structures that are being used today. First is the Passive Optical Network (PON) and second is the Active Optical Network (AON). A PON is a point to point network structure that uses optical splitters to passively distribute signal. The amount of signal received is dependent on the split ratio of the hard wired splitter and is not adjustable. An AON is a point to point network structure that uses electrically powered equipment, such as a media converter or a switch, to manage signal distribution and direct signals to specific locations or subscribers. In an AON, the bandwidth allocation is completely adjustable and can be managed by software via the switch. This is the type of network structure that we are going to focus on today.

In an AON, we can use media converters to do a few things. The first, and most common application, is converting copper cable to fiber optic cable. A quick example of this would be connecting two campus buildings together. Let’s say that the length between the two buildings is over the limitations of copper cable, so you need to run fiber. How do you do it? How do you get your copper signal transferred over to fiber, without losing any of the signal integrity? Well, the simple solution is to put a media converter in both buildings and connect them together. This means, taking an RJ 45 patch cord and connecting it to the media converter via its onboard RJ 45 port. Once plugged in, you would then connect the fiber optic indoor/outdoor rated cable to its onboard duplex port. Once both are connected, you would do the same thing in the other building to make the connection complete. Problem solved.

One important thing to remember when you’re using media converters is that the data speed on the copper side is auto adjustable. This means that the RJ 45 port automatically selects the operating transmission speed depending on what the incoming speed is from the fiber optic port. The fiber optic port, however, is not adjustable. The reason it’s at a fixed speed is due to the fact that the internal laser or VCSEL (Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser) in the converter can only transmit at its calibrated rate. If you have a need to adjust your optical speed rate, one way to get around this is to select a media converter or switch with a SFP (Small Form Pluggable) port. What is a SFP port? Let me explain.

The great thing about fiber optic media converters and switches is that they come in a variety of different styles and configurations. Most support all of the standard fiber optic connector types: ST, FC, SC, and LC. Typically, when you choose the LC connector, the unit will come with an open SFP port. What’s an SFP port you ask? An SFP port is an open port with a standardized footprint that accepts a removable transceiver module that’s typically designed for a duplex LC connector. An SFP module is essentially a compact pluggable transceiver. The word transceiver means that it can both transmit and receive data over a duplex fiber optic cable. These can be purchased in either single mode or multi mode wavelengths. They can transmit data various distances and speeds, depending on what your network requires. The reason why the SFP option is so beneficial to you as the network manager, is because it allows you the option to upgrade your network, down the road, without having to purchase any new active equipment. You wouldn’t need to make another capital investment. You can keep your existing equipment and speed up your system, or extend your network range, simply by swapping out your SFP modules. Just so you get an idea of how good this is, the average price on a SFP module is comparable to a Big Mac Meal for two people. The savings is significant and the convenience unbeatable. It’s a great way to future proof your network!

Alright, so now that we’ve covered some of the basics, I’ll mention one additional benefit to using active equipment. You have the ability to manage your network permissions. The great thing about using switches and media converters is that most of these have the ability to be managed remotely from a laptop. You can have full control over where your data goes and where it does not. As the network operator, this is critical. In this day and age, security is a top priority and having the ability to control your data rights is an advantage that PON does not give.

In closing, you don’t need to be an expert in fiber optics to start using media converters and switches. They’re simple, cost effective, and an easily managed solution. If you have any additional questions on this subject matter, I encourage you to reach out to an FIS sales associate today. We are available and always happy to help with all of your network needs.