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PoE vs. Fiber: Which is the Best Solution for SMB Networks

A high-speed Internet connection is essential for running your business to improve employee productivity, maintain business resilience and streamline cooperation within or outside the company, while a slow and unstable network can cause significant financial loss. And to complete data-heavy, high-demand activities like video conferencing, video streaming, large file downloading, etc., it’s crucial to have Internet connectivity that offers high bandwidth and speed to deliver information at a higher throughput. A carefully designed network can help your business thrive and prosper, but the question is “which is the best practice to create a high-speed Internet for SMBs?”. The traditional way to take advantage of Power over Ethernet, an advanced technology that allows data and power to be transmitted via a single Ethernet cable, but considering its limits in long-distance applications, some business owners will choose the fiber optic network that usually comes with a higher cost but better network performance. In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of network solutions and the best network solution for your business.

Copper-Based Network: Incorporate PoE into Your Business

Power over Ethernet (PoE) provides a powerful solution to supply power to the PDs from a centralized point rather than a collection of distributed power outlets. It transmits power and data via the same network cable to the powered devices (PDs), such as PTZ cameras, WiFi-6 access points, IP intercoms and POS machines, at a maximum distance of 100 meters (328ft.) to eliminate additional electrical wiring on the job site. But devices without PoE features can only receive the data through the Ethernet cable. PoE gives you more flexibility on where to place the devices since they don’t need to be tethered to an electrical outlet. The devices can be placed wherever they are needed most and repositioned easily if required.

A typical PoE system normally consists of power sourcing equipment (PSE) and at least a powered device (PD). Simply put, PSE refers to devices that can deliver power to PoE-compatible devices, and the most commonly used PSEs are PoE switches (endspans) and PoE injectors (midspans). The endspan can power the connected PDs directly, so there is no need for an additional power source between the PSE and the terminal devices, while the midspan is often used as an intermediary device that injects the power into a network connection where a non-PoE network switch is to be used with a PoE device. On the other hand, PDs are devices that receive power from the PSE, such as IP cameras, WAPs and VoIP phones.

PoE Standards

Formalized under the Institute of Electrical and Electronics (IEEE) standard, the amount of power can be sent down the network cable also increases. IEEE compliant PSEs, such as PoE switches and PoE injectors, can output 12 watts to 70 watts of power to the PDs.

Under the IEEE802.3af standard, each PoE port can support a maximum power supply of up to 15.4W. However, due to the power loss over long cable runs, the minimum guaranteed power available at the PD is merely 12.95W per port. However, compliant PSE can deliver up to 30W on a per-port basis and the PDs can be powered with up to 25.5 Watts. Moreover, the latest IEEE802.3bt standard also introduces 2 types of PoE: PoE++ and Hi-PoE. With PoE+, PSE can provide up to 60W at each port to power each PD with 51W max., while the high-power PoE or Hi-PoE can supply maximum power output of 100W at PSE and the power available at the PDs is 71.3W using the Cat6e cables.


• Smart home automation: security cameras and sensors at the main entrances and driveway; voice command devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home; remote lighting control, etc.

• Smart offices: smart building access control; security camera systems; video conferencing; centralized management of lighting, humidity, temperature; computer monitors, etc.

• Small and medium-sized businesses: security cameras; digital signage displays; point-of-sale systems; the expansion of WiFi networks and the addition of thin clients, etc.

• Industrial automation: smart sensors and IP cameras to monitor manufacturing floors, etc.

Fiber Optics: High-Speed Data Transmission over Long Distances

When building a high-speed network that requires long distances and higher bandwidth, there is no question: fiber optic cables are obviously the best solution. Fiber optic connection has a world-renowned reputation for long-distance and high-performance data networking due to its inherent advantages as an uninterruptible information carrier. As one of the most important technologies in communications, fiber optics carry light signals through flexible plastic or glass threads. Normally, the transmission speed of fiber optics could reach 10 Gbps or more, but it may suffer slight degradation when used together with incompatible devices. Fiber connection is also known for its durability with a prolonged service life of up to 30-50 years, which makes it a worthwhile investment in the long term.

Benefits of Fiber Optic Network

• High-speed data transmission rates of up to 10 Gbps and higher

• Low attenuation, low latency, suitable for long-distance transmissions

• Immunity to crosstalk, EMI interference, network congestion, bad weather, etc.

• Symmetrical upload and download speeds in Point-to-Point network connections

• Scalability with a high-bandwidth capacity for future expansions

• Smaller size and better tensile strength, making it easier to install

Applications of Fiber Optic Network

• Computer networking: Networking between computers in a single building or between two nearby structures is much easier to accomplish with fiber optic cabling to seek a faster and more reliable network connection. The fiber cables support a larger bandwidth, and therefore they support a higher capacity, ideal for network expansions in the near future.

• Video conferencing: The lack of bandwidth is often suffered in video conferencing when multiple video devices are connected to the network or the distance of video transmission is beyond limits. Lost data packets caused by external interference also result in buffering and poor quality video display. But the fiber optic network offers comparatively high bandwidth with minimal attenuation to ensure a high-speed, buffer-free video transmission.

PoE vs. Fiber: Which is the Clear Winner?

1) Network Speed

A fast-speed Internet is critically important for your business network. The main difference between the PoE network and the fiber optic network is the network speed. Fiber optic cables transmit signals in the form of light pulses (laser and LEDs), while in copper cables, data is transmitted in the form of electrical signals, so the fiber cables are able to transmit more data at a much faster speed than copper wires in the same amount of time. What’s more, a fiber optic connection can transfer data at higher throughput with less attenuation in the long-range data transmission, while the copper-based Ethernet network will experience severe signal degradation as the distance increases.

2) Distance

As previously mentioned, PoE can only support a maximum transmission range of 100 meters, while the fiber connection can promise an ultra-long-range transmission of up to 60-80 kilometers. All data signals degrade over long distances, but fiber offers significantly better signal durability than its counterpart. It only loses 3% of the signal over distances greater than 100 meters, compared to 94% data loss in the PoE system. And the signal loss will increase as DC resistance increases due to overheating in the copper wires caused by higher electrical currents. But considering the fiber optic cables don’t carry any electricity, most signals can be transmitted with the same strength to deliver better network performance over long-distance deployments.

3) Interference

Electromagnetic interference (EMI) is one of the biggest problems in data networking. As data travels in the form of electric signals in the Ethernet cable, it’ll generate magnetic fields that interfere with a data connection and affect network performance. When EMI is generated, the packets’ integrity will be compromised and as a result, the signal will be distorted. It may cause intermittent communications, a re-transmission of the packets, and even a shutdown of the line. On the contrary, the fiber optic cables are completely impervious to EMI since no electricity will pass through. However, fiber optic cabling has some inherent drawbacks. It is more expensive than the copper cabling, not just the cable itself. It also requires specialized tools for installation and troubleshooting.

4) Cable Types

The Ethernet cable is normally made of copper wires that allow the transmission of data from one end to another. Typically, the Ethernet cables measure at least two millimeters in diameter (ultra-slim Cat6), so it’s heavier and thicker than the fiber cables that measure a few microns in diameter (5 to 100 microns) and they are also lighter in weight. The lifespan of copper cables is 5 years in approximate as they can get easily affected by temperature variations and other environmental factors, but fiber cables have a longer lifespan of 30-50 years. And since the fiber cable doesn’t carry any electrical signals, it’ll be completely safe when deployed in places where lightning is often present, while the Ethernet cable is more prone to lightning strikes and corrosive materials. And the installation and maintenance cost of a fiber cable is much higher than that of a copper cable since it’s easily broken when improperly handled.

5) Power Options

By utilizing the PoE technology, power and data can be transmitted to the PDs at the same time without running an additional power cable. But since the fiber optic cable doesn’t carry electricity, you have to use a power adapter or run a power cable in parallel with a fiber optic cable to power the edge devices. But please note the power cord and the fiber cable cannot be laid in the same conduit since high voltage electrical cables can and will induce currents in conventional fiber cable sheaths which can cause them to break down prematurely.

Set up a Hybrid Network with PoE and Fiber

Given PoE and fiber connections all have their inherent limitations, the best way to set up a business network is to incorporate them into the same system. Cost is the main challenge when implementing fiber optic cables. It’s obviously unrealistic to replace all the copper cabling systems with fiber-based ones. And since most network devices don’t necessarily have an optical interface, the ‘Last Mile’ has to be finished by the traditional PoE cabling. And by doing so, you won’t need to install new electrical infrastructures on the installation site, saving money and time. Moreover, the advancement of media converters also makes the conversion between electrical signals and optic signals much easier.

Components You’ll Need:

• Router

• Fiber Optic Switch

• Fiber Media Converters

• SFP Modules

• Pre-terminated Fiber Optic Cables

• Ethernet Cables

1) Fiber Optic Switch

To manage multiple devices at once, the best way is to deploy a fiber optic switch to realize data management from a central point. It is a network device that transfers optical signals through fiber optic cables, ideal for heavy traffic and complex networks like data centers, computer networks and surveillance systems. The fiber optic switch can eliminate congestion to the minimum in the signal transmission. It’s ideal for heavy traffic and complex networks. And the fiber switch is often used with SFP modules and fiber media converters for media conversion since the IP cameras can only receive digital signals. The 8 Port Fiber Optic SFP switch from Fastcabling has 8* 10/100/1000Mbps SFP slots and 2*Gigabit uplink ports and can be used as a central management tool for deploying multiple devices.

2) Fiber Media Converters

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 legacy device. The media converter 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 different manufacturers.

The fiber media converters are widely used in various scenarios other than the surveillance system, ranging from building access controls to enterprise/campus LANs and governmental projects. They often work in pairs for copper-to-fiber conversion to realize high-speed data transmission in the surveillance system. A generic media converter is composed of a PoE port, an SFP module slot and a power input port. It receives the electrical signals from the PSE, converts them into optical signals and transfers them down the fiber cable to the other media converter. And the second device will then convert the signals back to the electrical signals that the edge device can receive. Fastcabling has launched a Waterproof Industrial Hardened Grade Fiber PoE Media Converter that can deliver PoE directly to the edge devices like IP cameras with a maximum power output of 30W.

How to Choose Media Converters?

There are a variety of media converters that correspond with different media types, network protocols, cable and connector types and so on.

• Types of Conversion

The most commonly used media converters in fiber optic cabling are the copper-to-fiber and fiber-to-fiber media converters. The copper-to-fiber media converter is used to build the connection between the Ethernet cables (CatX series) and the fiber optic cables by transforming the electrical pulsed into light pulses in the fiber optic networks. On the other hand, the fiber-to-fiber media converter provides conversion for single-mode and multi-mode fibers, single and dual fibers, etc.

• Network Speeds

Depending on different manufacturers, media converters are designed to support different network protocols, such as Ethernet (10 Mbps), Fast Ethernet (100 Mbps), Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps) and 10Base (10 Gbps). You need to choose one according to the bandwidth requirements of your applications and network setups. To set up a 4K camera, Fast Ethernet is required for live streaming with H.264, and to live stream on YouTube, you’ll need at least 50Mbps for each camera. Apart from the Ethernet protocols, media converters also support other network protocols like 10G OTN, Serial RS-232/422/530, etc.

• Cable and Connector Types

Since fiber optic cables come in different forms such as single-mode and multi-mode fiber cables, dual and single fibers, and different types of cables are terminated with different types of connectors such as ST, SC, LC, and Mt-RJ, depending on which types of cable you’re using, choose a media converter that corresponds to that specific type and make sure it is compatible with the transceivers (SFP, SFP+ or standard wavelengths) to be deployed. And the copper cable and connector types supported by the media converters are RJ45, BVC and mini-BNC, Coax, UTP Cat4, 5, and 6, etc.

3) SFP Modules

An SFP module is a small modular transceiver that plugs into the SFP port on a network switch, fiber switch or media converter to facilitate the seamless conversion of Ethernet signals into optical signals to transfer and receive data. Also, the SFP module is hot-swappable, featuring a rather small footprint, which makes it easy to adjust existing networks without having to redesign the entire network infrastructure. It is mainly used with copper or fiber optic cables. Its small size makes it ideal for applications even in areas that may not be very accessible. The SFP modules are mainly classified based on their speed capabilities, such as 100BASE-T, 1000BASE-T and 10GBASE-T. For most SFP modules, the transmission speed is 1 Gigabit, but the newer versions such as SPF+ have a higher speed of transmission, from 10 to 25 Gigabit, to support high-speed network communication with compatible network switches and media converters. When deploying SFP modules in a video surveillance system, you need to check their compatibility with the network switch or other connected devices.

4) Pre-terminated Fiber Optic Cable

The per-terminated fiber cable arrives on-site with the connector attached and ready to install. It’s normally made at a pre-determined length, and it’s undeniable of higher quality than its counterpart. The pre-terminate cable helps eliminate rework, transmission testing, etc. And it comes in a plug-and-play design, which can be easily connected and disconnected, cutting off the deployment time by at least 70%. It is manufactured and assembled in a well-controlled environment to ensure the best possible network performance, and signal loss can be highly restrained with thorough inspections. The pre-terminated cable can be used in mission-critical applications that demand the highest level of accuracy, like video surveillance systems.

There are two primary types of fiber optic cables: single-mode fiber cables (SMF) and multi-mode fiber cables (MMF). The single-mode fiber cable has a small fiber core size and only allows the laser to pass through, while the multi-mode fiber cable has a larger fiber core which lets multiple strands of light signals pass through at the same time. But MMF will create more reflection and generates more signal loss over the transmission. SMF is widely used in long-distance and higher-bandwidth deployments, while MMF is used for short-distance, cross-building applications (≤550 meters).

Follow the Procedures Below:

1. Connect the fiber optic switch (the uplink port) to the router with an Ethernet cable;

2. Plug one SFP module into the fiber optic switch and another into the media converters;

3. Use the pre-terminated fiber cables to connect the fiber switch and the media converters;

4. Power the fiber optic switch and media converters with power adapters;

5. Use the Ethernet cable to connect the fiber media converter to the PoE-enabled device.

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