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Black Box Explains…Media Converters

Media converters transparently convert the incoming electrical signal from one cable type and then transmit it over another type, usually UTP to fiber. They are often used in pairs to insert a fiber segment into copper networks to increase cabling distances and enhance immunity to electromagnetic interference. They can also be used to connect one type of network, say 10/100-Mbps Ethernet to 1000-Mbps Ethernet.

Traditionally, media converters were purely Layer 1 devices that only converted electrical signals and physical media and didn’t do anything to the data coming through the link. Today’s media converters, however, are often more advanced Layer 2 Ethernet devices that, like traditional media converters, provide Layer 1 electrical and physical conversion. But, unlike traditional media converters, they also provide Layer 2 services and route Ethernet packets based on MAC address. These media converters are often called media converter switches, switching media converters, or Layer 2 media converters. They enable you to have multiple connections rather than just one simple in-and-out connection. And because they’re switches, they increase network efficiency.

Media converters are available in standalone models that convert between two different media types and in chassis-based models that house many media converters in a a single chassis. Standalone models convert between two media. Consider your current and future applications before selecting a media converter. A good way to anticipate future network requirements is to choose media converters that work as standalone devices but can be rackmounted if needed later.

Chassis-based or modular media converter systems are normally rackmountable and have slots to house media converter modules. The chassis gives you room to grow. These are used when many Ethernet segments of different media types need to be connected in a central location. Modules are available for the same conversions performed by the standalone converters, and they enable you to mix different media types such as 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 100BASE-FX, and Gigabit modules. Although enterprise-level chassis-based systems generally have modules that can only be used in a chassis, many midrange systems feature modules that can be used individually or in a chassis.