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Networking / Media Converter / Fiber Media Converter: What Is It and How It Works?

Fiber Media Converter: What Is It and How It Works?

Posted on By FS.COM

If you have a network that uses the older type of copper cables and another network that utilizes faster and more reliable fiber optic cables, it is possible to connect them together by using a special product named fiber media converter. A fiber media converter changes signals on a copper cable to signals that run on fiber, make one cable “look” like another cable without changing the nature of the network. Due to this function, network executives who need to upgrade their systems from copper to fiber but don’t have the budget, manpower or time, just turn to media converters.

What Is a Fiber Media Converter?

Fiber media converter is a small device with two media-dependent interfaces and a power supply, simply receive data signals from one media, convert and transmit them to another media. It can be installed almost anywhere in a network. The style of connector depends on the selection of media to be converted by the unit. The most common being UTP to multimode or single mode fiber. On the copper side, most media converters have an RJ-45 connector for 10BASE-T, 100BASE-T, 1000BASE-T and 10GBASE-T connectivity. The fiber side usually has a pair of SC/ST connectors or SFP port. Media converters may support network speeds from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, thus there are Fast Ethernet media converters, Gigabit Ethernet media converters, and 10-Gigabit Ethernet media converters. Here is a 10/100/1000Base-T RJ45 to 1x 1000Base-X SFP Gigabit Ethernet media converter in the picture below.

How Does a Fiber Media Converter Work?

Fiber media converters change the format of an Ethernet-based signal on Cat5 into a format compatible with fiber optic cables. At the other end of the fiber cable run, a second media converter is used to change the data back to its original format. One important difference to note between Cat5 and fiber is that Cat5 cables and RJ45 jacks are bidirectional while fiber is not. Thus, every fiber run in a system must include two fiber cables, one carrying data in each direction. These are typically labeled transmit (or Tx) and receive (or Rx).

Ethernet media converter

Types of Fiber Media Converters

Media converters may be simple devices, but they come in a dizzying array of types. Newer media converters are often really a switch, which confuses the issue even more.

Layer 1 vs Layer 2 Fiber Media Converter

Traditional media converters are purely Layer 1 devices that only convert electrical signals and physical media and do not do anything to the data coming through the link so they are totally transparent to data. Some media converters are more advanced Layer 2 Ethernet devices. Like traditional media converters, they provide Layer 1 electrical and physical conversion. But unlike traditional media converters, these converters also provide Layer 2 services. This kind of media converter often has more than two ports, enabling the user to extend two or more copper links across a single-fiber link. These media converters usually feature auto-sensing ports on the copper side, making them useful for linking segments operating at different speeds.

Unmanaged vs Managed Fiber Media Converter

A unmanaged media converter allows for simple communication with one another but does not provide monitoring, fault detection and setting up network configurations. The unmanaged option is a great choice for newbies and if you want a plug and play fiber network cable installation. Managed media converters are more costly but do offer additional network monitoring, fault detection, remote configuration and more. Besides, usually a managed media converters have the function of SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) management. There is no mention of SNMP for unmanaged fiber optic media converters.

Non-PoE vs PoE Fiber Media Converter

Standard media converters come with an AC power supply that plugs into a standard wall outlet. It may be 120V AC for domestic U.S. power only or may be an auto-sensing 120 to 240V AC power supply that can be used domestically or easily converted to European power with a simple plug adapter. When media converters are used in areas that do not have convenient power outlets, they may be powered by Power over Ethernet (PoE), which provides power to network devices over the same Category 5 or higher UTP cable used for data. PoE media converters may also provide power through PoE to a PoE-powered device such as a security camera or wireless access point. A use case of PoE media converters is shown in the picture below.

PoE Media Converter

Benefits of Fiber Media Converter

Fiber is already established for LAN backbone applications, and now fiber is making inroads in horizontal cabling. Fiber carries more data than copper, making it more suitable for high throughput applications such as streaming media and VOIP. Additionally, as the price of copper rises, the price of installing fiber continues to fall, making it an economical choice as well. Copper-to-fiber fiber media converters help to ease the financial shock of migrating network equipment to fiber. These media converters are a simple, inexpensive solution for matching copper ports to fiber infrastructure. From the data center to the desktop, from the central office to the home, media converters are bringing fiber connectivity to areas where copper has long been the medium of choice.


In the data center, media converters extend the productive life of existing copper-based switches, providing a gradual migration path from copper to fiber. Media converters can also be used with new copper switches that have fixed RJ-45 ports, which are significantly less expensive than the equivalent fiber switches. Here, network managers can convert only selected copper ports for multimode or single mode fiber as needed, bringing versatility to the data center while bringing overall costs down.

Related Article: Difference Between Media Converter and Network Switch