Difference Between Media Converter and Network Switch


Media converter and network switch are both widely used in today’s high-speed network applications. In some scenes, one can be used to replace another one. Then, which one should I choose for my network? What is the difference between the media converter and the network switch? This post will cover the knowledge of media converter and the network switch, and explain the difference between.

 What does Media Converter mean?

A media converter, in the context of network hardware, is a cost-effective and flexible device intended to implement and optimize fiber links in every kind of network. Among media converters, the most often used type is a device that works as a transceiver, which converts the electrical signal utilized in copper unshielded twisted pair (UTP) network cabling to light waves used for fiber optic cabling. It is essential to have the fiber optic connectivity if the distance between two network devices is greater than the copper cabling’s transmission distance. The copper-to-fiber conversion carried out by a media converter allows two network devices having copper ports to be connected across long distances by means of fiber optic cabling.

Techopedia explains Media Converter

A media converter offers fiber-to-fiber conversion as well, from the multi-mode fiber into the single-mode fiber. It also converts a dual fiber link to single fiber with the help of bi-directional (BIDI) data flow. In addition, media converters have the capability to convert between wavelengths for applications that use wavelength division multiplexing (WDM).

Generally, media converters are protocol specific and they support an extensive array of data rates and network types. They are presented as the physical layer or Layer 2 switching systems. Media converters that include Layer 2 switching functionality offer rate-switching as well as other innovative features.

Network intricacy, challenging applications and the increasing range of network devices drive network bandwidth and speed requirements to new extents and push longer distance requirements inside the local area network (LAN). The answer to these issues is media converters. Media converters permit fiber usage when required and integrate new devices into existing cabling infrastructure. Media converters provide flawless incorporation of fiber and copper and various fiber forms in LAN networks. They support a multitude of protocols, media types and data rates to build a more trustworthy and cost-effective network.

Media converter characteristics:

·Expands network distances with the conversion of UTP to fiber and the extension of fiber links

·Retains investments in pre-existing devices

·Boosts the potential of present fiber with WDM wavelengths

New applications for media converters:

·Remotely handled converters and multi-port switch configurations

·Conversion of DM wavelengths to enhance the bandwidth capacity

·Facilitate fiber-to-the-desktop

What is Network Switch?

A network switch is a computer networking device that connects devices together on a computer network by using packet switching to receive, process, and forward data to the destination device. Usually, a switch serves as a controller, enabling networked devices to talk to each other efficiently. Through information sharing and resource allocation, switches save businesses money and increase employee productivity. And the network switch operates at the data link layer (Layer 2) of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model called layer 2 switch, which operates at the network layer (layer 3) of the OSI model called layer 3 switch.

The relationship between switches, media converters, and OSI layers

Today’s media converters are often switches, and switches often act as media converters. Plus, both switches and media converters are frequently described in terms of layers—Layer 2, Layer 3. How can you tell what the heck you’re looking at?

Most of the confusion happens around OSI Layer 2 where Layer 1 media converters have evolved to meet basic switches. And today’s switches are rapidly advancing into Layer 3 and 4, the territory formerly held by routers, muddying the waters still more.

A clear understanding of what OSI layers do, and what the differences between devices operating at different layers are, will help you select the right device.

OSI is a layered network design framework. The layers are referenced in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model (which provides a layered network design framework that establishes a standard so that devices from different vendors work together). The OSI model is hierarchical. The layer at which a switch or a media converter operates determines which addressing detail it reads as data passes through.

Layer 1: media converters

Layer 1 is the Physical Layer. Media converters operating at Layer 1 only convert electrical signals and physical media without doing anything to data coming through the link.

These media converters only have two ports—one in, one out—and convert the incoming electrical signal from one cable type and then transmit it over another type—UTP to fiber, thick coax to Thin, and so on.

Layer 2: switches and media converters

Layer 2 is the Data-Link Layer. Devices operating at Layer 2 sort packets using physical network addresses, also known as MAC addresses. All network hardware is permanently assigned this number during its manufacture.

Both switches and media converters can be Layer 2 devices. Usually, the only difference between a Layer 2 switch and a Layer 2 media converter is the number of ports—a device with two or three ports is called a media converter; four or more ports is called a switch. A media converter operating at Layer 2 may have more than two ports and may have ports operating at different speeds.

Devices operating at Layer 2 are very fast but aren’t very smart because they don’t look at data packets closely. A Layer 2 media converter is considered to be fairly advanced for a media converter, but a Layer 2 switch is a basic switch. Do you follow?

Layer 3: switches

Layer 3 is the Network Layer. Layer 3 switches use network or IP addresses that identify locations on the network. Because they read packets more closely than Layer 2 switches do, they identify network locations as well as physical devices. A location can be a LAN workstation, an address in a computer’s memory, or even a different packet of data traveling through a network.

Switches operating at Layer 3 are smarter than Layer 2 devices and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination.

Layer 4: switches

Layer 4—the Transport Layer of the OSI model—coordinates communications between systems. Layer 4 switches are capable of identifying which application protocols (HTTP, SNTP, FTP, and so forth) are included with each packet, and use this information to hand off the packet to the appropriate higher-layer software.

Because Layer 4 devices enable you to establish priorities for network traffic based on application, you can assign a high priority to packets belonging to your vital in-house applications, with different forwarding rules for low-priority packets.

Layer 4 switches also provide an effective wire-speed security shield for a network because any company- or industry-specific protocols can be confined to only authorized switched ports or users. This security feature is often reinforced with traffic filtering and forwarding features.

High-end vs. low-end switches

Switches can also be considered low end or high end. A low-end switch operates in Layer 2 of the OSI model and can also operate in a combination of Layers 2 and 3. High-end switches operate in Layer 3, Layer 4, or a combination of the two.


Media converters can be used anywhere in the network to integrate newer technology with existing equipment to support new applications, technologies, and future growth. Layer 2 and layer 3 network switches are also widely deployed in enterprise and data center for higher speed and more capacity.


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