fiber media converters
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Basic knowledge of fiber media converters

Table of Contents

What is a Fiber Media Converter?

Fiber media converters are indispensable in networking, as they combine the advantages and technologies of two different networking systems, i.e., the fiber optic systems and the existing copper networking systems. They’re designed to interconnect fiber optic cables to copper cables, such as twisted pairs or coaxial cables, or vice versa. They convert light signals carried by fiber optic cables into electrical signals carried by copper cables like Ethernet twisted pairs cables, or vice versa. Thus a partial upgrade of network infrastructure is implemented with little effort and cost.

Types of fiber media converters

The most commonly used fiber media converters can be divided into three categories in terms of communication protocols, functions, form factors, commerciality, and conversion.

According to the data transmission protocols that fiber media converters complied with, they can be classified as below:

  • 10M, 100M, Gigabit and 10G Ethernet
  • 10G OTN (Optical Transport Network)
  • T1/E1/J1
  • T3/E3/DS3
  • Serial RS-232, RS-422, RS-485, RS-530
  • SONET (OC-3, OC-12, OC-48 and OC-96)
  • Fibre Channel
  • Protocol Transparent, supporting data rates up to 11.32 Gbps

According to the functions, the fiber media converters with advanced functions, also called Managed fiber media converters, can be differentiated from those with essential functions, namely, Unmanaged fiber media converters.

  • Managed fiber media converters
  • Unmanaged fiber media converters

According to the form factors of fiber media converters, they can be classified into three classes in order from smallest to biggest.

Gigabit Fiber Optical Switch 8RJ45 Ethernet Port 2SC Fiber Port Media Converter PCB Board
Gigabit Fiber Optical Switch 8RJ45 Ethernet Port 2SC Fiber Port Media Converter PCB Board
  • PC card converters
  • Small standalone devices
  • High port-density chassis systems

According to the grade of commerciality, fiber media converters can be divided into two kinds, i.e.,

  • Commercial-grade fiber media converters
  • Industrial-grade fiber media converters

According to the conversion between different fiber modes or transmission channels, fiber media converters can be classified into three groups:

  • multimode to singlemode conversion
  • duplex fiber to single fiber conversion
  • wavelength conversion

Finally, there is a special type of fiber media converter, called PoE fiber media converter. PoE stands for Power over Ethernet. As the name implies, PoE fiber media converters can transmit power and data simultaneously through the Ethernet copper cable to PoE-dependent applications, such as an IP camera. In this way, your networking structure can be greatly simplified, and you won’t have to worry about the operation of a PTZ Camera hanging in the air.

Benefits of fiber media converters

  • Interconnect the fiber-based cabling and the copper-based cabling systems.
  • Extend the reach of Ethernet in LAN.
  • Simplify the cabling structure.
  • Empower more flexibility
  • Immunity from electromagnetic interference
  • Higher speed
  • Economically beneficial
  • Managed fiber media converters have many advanced features, like SNMP, network monitoring, remote configuration, fault detection, etc.

The Workings of fiber media converters

Basically, fiber media converters are designed to convert light pulses to electrical signals, or vice versa. Though they work at the physical layer of the OSI model, advanced fiber media converters also work at the data link.

General fiber media converters are plug-and-play devices that are easy to install. Advanced fiber media converters have many functions of switches.

How to choose fiber media converters?

When choosing fiber media converters, you should consider the following factors:

  • Technical parameters: for example, make sure you buy the proper chip which can work in full-duplex and half-duplex systems. This is the compatibility consideration. Other specifications that need to take care of include temperature measurement, compliance, and connection test.
  • Managed or unmanaged fiber media converters: managed fiber media converters allow you to monitor and configure them remotely, while unmanaged are more basic. If you require more advanced management features, choose the managed media converters. Needless to say, they’re more costly.
  • PoE or non-PoE fiber media converters: the former can provide power to PD (PoE dependent) edge devices, like WAP (wireless access point) and VoIP. PoE fiber media converters are widely used to power and network these PD devices deployed in hard-to-reach areas.
  • Conversion type: choose the proper conversion type of fiber media converters according to your demand. For instance, you may want to interconnect multimode fiber optic cable to singlemode fiber optic cable.
  • Form factor: select the proper size from PC card converters, small standalone fiber media converters, or high port-density chassis-based fiber media converters.
  • Cost: people always prefer the option which can bring them the best value at the same price. You shall calculate the respective cost-effectiveness of your choices in terms of features required, costs, and simplicity of your cabling structure.
PoE fiber media converter
PoE fiber media converter

What is the difference between a fiber media converter and a network switch?

Simply put, they perform different functions.

14 slot fiber media converter chassis vs. 50 port Ethernet switch
14 slot fiber media converter chassis vs. 50 port Ethernet switch

A fiber media converter is a device that usually converts an electrical signal from copper cabling to an optical signal that can be transmitted over fiber optic cabling and vice versa. Fiber media converters are commonly used when the existing LAN copper Ethernet needs to extend its reach beyond its 100 m transmission distance limit.

In contrast, Wikipedia defines a network switch as follows1:

A network switch (also called switching hub, bridging hub, and, by the IEEE, MAC bridge) is networking hardware that connects devices on a computer network by using packet switching to receive and forward data to the destination device.

Switches, which typically have multiple ports, are used to create local area networks (LANs), commonly used in homes and businesses to connect computers, printers, servers, and other network devices.

In summary, a fiber media converter is used to convert the physical media type of a signal, while a switch is used to connect multiple devices together and allow them to communicate.

Cisco small business SG300-28 28-port Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switch
Cisco small business SG300-28 28-port Gigabit Ethernet rackmount switch

Common Technical parameters of fiber media converters

Below are some common technical parameters of fiber media converters you should know:

  • Data rate: namely, 10Mb Ethernet, 100M Fast Ethernet, 1000Mb Gigabit Ethernet, or even 10G Ethernet.
  • Conversion type: multimode fiber to singlemode fiber, or fiber to copper.
  • Operating temperature: the range of temperatures within which the media converter can operate without damage or malfunction.
  • Diagnostic features: Many fiber media converters include diagnostic features such as link fault pass-through, which allows network administrators to identify and troubleshoot connectivity issues in the network.
  • Management features: SNMP or web-based management interfaces allow network administrators to configure and monitor the performance of the media converters.


  1. “Network Switch,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, February 14, 2023),

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