High-speed internet has gradually progressed into a necessity in industrial and commercial applications. Along with the growing demand for higher bandwidth and long-distance data transmission, fiber media converter and Ethernet extender are introduced to retrofit legacy network systems and overcome the geographical limit of standard Ethernet (100m/328ft) at affordable prices for long-range deployments. Although they share some similarities (signal conversion), they are distinct networking devices applied in different situations.
What is the Fiber Media Converter?
Fiber media converters are straightforward networking devices to repurpose the existing network infrastructure, often utilized to create a connection between dissimilar media types (i.e. fiber optic cables and twisted pairs) by converting optical signals into electrical signals, and vice versa. Furthermore, it offers a cost-effective solution to upgrade the existing wiring configurations with a minimal impact on the older equipment. It’s universally acknowledged that the fiber optic cable is highly valued for its high speed in long-distance deployments, so the media converter is an essential tool to interconnect the fiber optic system with the copper-based network systems. The media converter supports a wide variety of data communication protocols like Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, etc. and it can work with different types of cables such as coaxial cables, twisted-pair cables and single mode or multi-mode fiber optic cables depending on the design and manufacturers.
The media converters are widely used today in all walks of industries (residential/commercial and industrial applications), ranging from building access controls, security surveillance to enterprise/campus LANs and governmental projects. They often work in pairs for copper-to-fiber conversion to realize high-speed data connection over extended distances via fiber optic cabling. A generic media converter is composed of a PoE port, an SFP transceiver slot (work together with an SFP module) and a power input port. It receives the electrical signals from the PoE switch/injector via the twisted-pair copper cable, converts the signals into the optical ones and transfers them down the fiber cable to the other media converter. And the second device will convert the signals back to the electrical signals that the edge device can receive.
The Benefits of Media Converters
1. A more reliable and cost-effective network connection
On contrary to the copper cables which transfer digital signals/electrical currents along the cable, fiber cables utilize light pulses to generate downstream signals for data transmission. As opposed to its counterpart, the optical transmission will never pose fire threats to the infrastructure. Additionally, considering the fiber cables do not conduct electricity, which makes them more applicable to situations where lightning is often present. It makes a huge difference in elevating network performance in a budget-friendly manner. Replacing the whole network infrastructure (from twist-pair cabling system to fiber optic system) is never a viable choice, while the fiber media converter offers an economical approach to upgrade the network speed by simply adding a supporting and supplementary device.
2. A future-proof network system with improvised features
The fiber media converter allows its users to integrate a new device into the existing cable infrastructure with a substantial increase in network speed. Furthermore, fiber cables have a great potential for a larger bandwidth with a symmetrical upload and download rate in point-to-point connections. It helps deliver data at higher throughput with lower signal degradation in long-distance deployments. With the media converter, the network system will experience less electromagnetic interference (EMI) with a lower attenuation rate, allowing the copper cable to take advantage of fiber optic cables. Featuring a compact size for wall-mounting, it provides a space-saving solution to ensure uninterruptible data connectivity, leaving enough space for future expansion.
What is the Ethernet Extender?
The Ethernet extender is a useful device to extend the standard Ethernet beyond its inherent distance limitation (100m/328ft) to establish a long-range, high-speed connection between geographically separated network devices. It converts Ethernet to digital simulation language (DSL) and then reverts it back to Ethernet with a wide variety of physical media, such as coaxial cables, copper wires and twisted pairs (i.e. Cat5e/6/7/8). It offers a practical, cost-effective solution to repeat the signals and re-transmit them to the powered devices before significant attenuation exhibits, forming a seamless connection between two Ethernet cables. It takes less equipment to realize LAN extension and expand network infrastructures, often employed to connect different workstations within the same building.
The PoE extender is the updated version of the traditional Ethernet extender, a mutual-benefit networking device that extends both power and data connection to the remote edge device on a twisted-pair cabling system, while the fiber media converter and the Ethernet extender only support data connectivity (additional power wring is demanded if there is no available power source near the edge device). It leverages existing twisted-pair cabling to deliver the electrical power over the same Ethernet data stream to the next connected device (i.e. another PoE extender or the powered device). The direct burial PoE extender from Fastcabling is exclusively designed for long-distance power and data connection in outdoor applications, featuring a simple plug-and-play installation. By using two PoE extenders, the maximum distance can be extended to 500m/984ft.
The Benefits of Ethernet Extenders
The Ethernet extender offers a cost-effective solution to upgrade the network infrastructures. Simply extending the cable length won’t do any good to LAN extension, so a signal booster is still required to repeat the signals and enhance the data transmission. The Ethernet extender is an economical alternative to expensive Ethernet/PoE switches by using existing copper cables, which dramatically lowers the costs of the initial investment. The delivery of power and data over the same Ethernet cable with PoE extenders also eliminates the need to install new electrical infrastructures to facilitate network deployments in areas where no power is present. No additional equipment nor cabling is required to add the Ethernet extenders to the network system. Additionally, this device can directly draw the power from a PoE switch or injector, thereby reducing the costs to hire a licensed electrician to install a new electrical outlet. It features a straightforward setup with fewer cables.
Fiber Media Converter VS. Ethernet Extender: Which to Choose?
Obviously, the fiber media converter offers more flexibility and scalability for future network expansion for its high-speed data transmission (the service life of fiber optic cables: up to 50 years if well-maintained), while the media converter is more of a short-term solution (the service life of copper cables: approximately 3-5 years) that requires frequent maintenance and replacement. Media converters are mostly used in pairs for copper-to-fiber conversion and their transmission speed will not be affected by other connected devices, while in the case of Ethernet extenders, their transmission speed is highly restricted by the interoperability of the compatible devices. If the Ethernet switch only supports 100 Mbps, the Gigabit Ethernet extender will be backward compatible with the legacy device and slow down to 100 Mbps/s.
Moreover, as opposed to the media converters, the Ethernet extenders are susceptible to EMI. As the distance increases, they will suffer immeasurable signal degradation. If you require any network data transmission beyond 500m or your environment is subject to high levels of EMI, the fiber media converter would be a better option for long distances thanks to its immunity to environmental interference, while the Ethernet extender is more applicable for short-distance extensions because of its geographical limit (i.e. two workstations on different floors but in the same building). But if you want to make full use of the existing Ethernet cable or you just simply don’t want to spend another fortune on fiber cables, the extenders offer a cost-effective method to maximize the existing network infrastructures.
The fiber media converter can support 10/100/1000Mbps and up to 10 Gigabit, while the Ethernet extender is only limited to 10/100/1000Mbps. The former is commonly used in industrial deployments, such as manufacturing, transportation, oil and mining (combustible atmosphere), and mission-critical applications like surveillance cameras, while the latter is more suitable for commercial applications in campuses, communities or in a manufacturing unit within the same building. As previously mentioned, no additional power supply is required in the extenders, while you’ll have to run a separate power cord to power up the media converters. So it’s highly recommended to use Ethernet extenders when there is no available power source or AC outlet over the long cable runs. But ultimately, this largely depends on your specific requirements as to which device to choose.