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Media Converters: What are they and when are they used?

Matt Golueke July 11, 2019 21:30 PM

What is a media converter image


In this video, Guy Walker from ComNet discusses media converter technology.  

Plus, be sure to review the written content below the video that Guy discussed in the video.


Traditionally, a media converter was a device used to convert from copper media to an optical fiber media and then back to copper, usually to send the data longer distances than the standard copper cabling can handle. But, in today’s IP-centric world, media converters work on lots of different types of media.

The three that we will be learning about below are fiber optic media converters, extended distance media converters, and wireless media converters. All transmit Ethernet signals.

Comnet_Copperline_BrochureSince all of them transmit Ethernet, they are all converting from a standard copper CAT5/6 cable, which has a limitation of 100 meters, or 328 feet.  An optical fiber media converter converts to a fiber optic cable and then back. Although an extended distance Ethernet media converter stays on copper cabling, it’s converting from a standard CAT 5/6 to a non-standard copper cable, such as a coaxial cable or an unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable, and then back to a standard CAT 5/6 cable. A wireless Ethernet media converter works the same way as the above types but it’s converting the Ethernet to a radio frequency to be transmitted through the air.

Many applications are outdoors and not in climate controlled environments. Electronics don’t like to be cold or wet, so a harsh environment requires a hardened product that can withstand extreme temperatures, condensation, transient voltages and other environmental factors. 

Because there are so many factors to consider when selecting a media converter for a harsh environment, it’s important that you select a good manufacturing partner, like ComNet, to help pick an appropriate product. You can use our design center, regional sales managers, or national trainers to get personalized assistance for your application. 

Fiber Optic Media Converters

Fiber optic media converterThe number one benefit with this type is the long distances they can carry an Ethernet signal. Standard copper Cat 5/6 cables only carry the signal 100 m, but a fiber optic media converter can extend that out over 100 km or more!

The second most common reason for using a fiber-optic media converter is to isolate the devices in an outside location from lightning or other electromagnetic interference. Optical fiber does not conduct electricity, so any lightning strike or EMI will be isolated to that location and not carry back to the head-end. These are often used for very short runs in lightning prone regions or industrial locations.

So, how do you pick the right fiber optic media converter? They come in lots of different flavors so let’s take a look at the options you need to work through.

The first question is whether you need a fixed optic version or a unit that uses a small form factor pluggable (SFP) that slides into the electronic unit an acts as your fiber transmission and receiving piece.

Next figure out what type of fiber will be used. There is multimode or single mode. Then figure out whether it will use one or two fibers to make the link. Many systems used two fibers so that you can send data one way on the first fiber and then the opposite direction on the second fiber. Also related to the physical cable that will be used is the type of connector on that fiber. There are ST, SC, and LC connectors.

Ethernet runs at different speeds, so you also have to decide what data speed you want running over that fiber. There is 100 Mb per second, 1000 Mb per second, also called gigabit, and multi-rate media converters that allow you to slide in either a 100 or a 1000 Mb per second SFP for flexibility.

You also have to decide on the form factor for the media converter. They come in a mini size, a medium mini size, and a full ComFit card size. The minis are good for fitting in small locations like enclosures or the mounting arms or back boxes of IP cameras. The ComFit cards can be shelf or wall-mounted, or slid in to a 14 slot card cage with no modifications.

The last option to consider is whether you need power over Ethernet at the remote location for your camera or other IP device. ComNet has options for 15 Watts, 30 W, or even 60 W for the outdoor rated IP PTZ cameras. And of course, all units ship with a power supply.

One application note to consider with fiber optic media converters is pairing appropriate units. When using just one fiber between the transmitter and the receiver you should pair an A unit with a B unit. The model number will tell you which it is.

When you are using a duplex optical fiber between the transmitter and receiver, both units are the same model number.

Coaxial and UTP Media Converters

copperline-1The main reason people use copper cable media converters is a retrofit application where are you are moving from an analog camera infrastructure to an IP camera infrastructure. These media converters allow you to use the existing coax cable or UTP cable and now run Ethernet on it instead of the analog signal, and it can represent a huge cost savings versus pulling out the existing cabling and running new cat six.

The second most common benefit is being able to send an IP signal much farther than the standard hundred meters over cat six without having to switch to more expensive optical fiber cabling and optical fiber media converters. Many extended distance Ethernet media converters can transmit an IP signal over 2000 feet.

Pass-through PoE allows one power source, like a POE switch, power all devices on the line. Power is transmitted from the PoE switch, powering both of the media converters and also passing power up to the camera at the end of the line. This makes for a much quicker installation and also means you don’t need to worry about finding power at the camera location. ComNet makes versions for up to 15 Watts or 30 Watts.

The amount of POE you need at the end of the line will affect the distances you can successfully travel over any copper cable, so please consult Comnet's data sheets for specific limitations.

Although ComNet has several product lines that perform this media conversion, the most comprehensive and popular segment is Copperline. It comes in 15 and 30 Watt models, various useful form factors, five different ways to power the modules, and 1 to 16 channel units.

Wireless Media Converters

ComNet_Netwave_Radio_Image-1Last in the series of media converters are wireless Ethernet media converters. This is a little different in that we are converting the zeros and ones of Ethernet from an electronic signal to a radio frequency signal and then back again. The number one reason people use wireless is so they don’t have to put in the cabling infrastructure necessary to carry the signal. Trenching for new cabling is very expensive, complicated, and difficult to accomplish in many environments. This all represents a huge cost savings by using wireless transmission methods. The second big benefit is the speed of deployment. If you have power on site the installation of a wireless Ethernet media converter can be very quick and effective.

The NetWave product line is capable of some very complex topologies combining any of the different devices…but by far the most common product and application is the simple point-to-point solution. The NetWave NWK 11/M and NWK1 kits include everything you need to set up a wireless link. The kits are pre-configured in the factory and MAC locked so that installation on the bench or in the field is simple, quick, and reliable. These pre-configured kits have allowed installers with no previous experience using Radio frequency products to successfully implement a wireless Ethernet media converter solution. If there is a "K" in the net wave model number, it’s a simple to use kit!


ComNet_2_Color_Logo-160x36To summarize, there are three main types of media converters: fiber optic, extended distance copper, and wireless. Since many of these applications are located in harsh environments, it is important that you select a product that can handle extreme temperatures and other environmental factors, and the ComNet lifetime warranty helps put to rest any concerns. Also, since many applications are complex, it can benefit you to tap into all of the free resources that ComNet provides for design assistance, technical support, and training. 


Contact our team for network design assistance >>


About Guy Walker

0Guy is an Educational Evangelist for technology that makes the Security industry safer and more stable. He is the North America Training Manager, A&E Program Manager at ComNet, LLC. Connect with Guy on LinkedIn >>





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