The gist of my question:

  • What is a "fiber optic" switch called?
    • I.E. a layer 2 ethernet switch that uses fiber TX and RX connections and sends layer 2 network traffic between the fiber strands that are connected.
  • Can someone purchase a dedicated fiber switch that does not have copper ethernet ports?
  • What is the current average price of a device like this?
    • Not necessarily looking for product endorsements, just information
    • Might not make sense to go this route if it is too cost prohibitive
  • What type of fiber connector is used for terminating a fiber strand into a jack on the wall?
    • Can fiber be "patched" using two jacks and a "patch" cable?
    • Is signal loss a concern with the longest runs at 100-200ft, a patch cable and media converters?

The full story:

My parents had unterminated fiber optic cable and terminated Cat5e run throughout their home when it was built in 2004. 10 years later the Cat5e isn't providing the throughput that my father needs to accomplish multiple streams of HD and fast system backups throughout the house. He can't reach gigabit speeds across the distance of the Cat5e runs.

We are both interested in terminating the fiber connections and using them as high speed "backbones" to copper switches in each room of the house. It would be easy to attain gigabit speeds (or better, eventually) using the fiber.

I have searched and searched for a "fiber optic switch" or "fiber optic router" and cannot find the correct term to describe this piece of hardware. We can use fiber media converters at the end points of each connection, however it would be nice to have a "patch panel" set up in the network closet in the basement that has fiber connections on it and switches the ethernet streams between the connections/systems in the house.

Each fiber media converter costs between $50-$100 a piece... After 10 or so terminated connections it might make sense to find a piece of hardware that does not require media converters. That would depend upon the cost of this hardware

Somewhat unrelated, if we are able to route between these fiber strands successfully, what is the physical connector type used in a jack on the wall? Just like RJ45 has a wall outlet (depicted below):

RJ-45 jack

What is the fiber optic equivalent of this? In the interim could we "patch" a couple fiber strands together in the network closet? Would signal loss be of concern with a run length of 100-200 feet, a patch cable and two media converters? If that would work then it could be used until the funds are available for more.

  • 7
    What I imagine their house to look like: wbbw1.bwbx.io/cms/2012-03-15/… – kobaltz Mar 1 '14 at 15:32
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    You're probably looking for a fiber channel switch, but you realize that the equipment costs for equipping a home for all fiber would be astronomical compared to switching to Cat-6, right? You're talking thousands, possibly tens of thousands. – Moses Mar 1 '14 at 15:39
  • @Moses Thank you! Since I didn't know what the technical term was for the hardware it was difficult to price it out. At the end of the day, if it's cheaper to use media converters, then we'll go that route. We have the copper gigabit equipment in place, we just need to use the bandwidth available in the fiber lines. – Shrout1 Mar 1 '14 at 15:59
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    @Moses, Fiber channel is a different protocol, fiber optic cabling can carry Fiber Channel or Ethernet. You can get switches that will use fiber optic cabling but are not Fiber Channel. See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibre_Channel – MaQleod Mar 1 '14 at 20:12
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    It should be mentioned that properly terminated Cat5e cables are capable of full-throughput Gigabit speeds. If you're not reaching those speeds and you've verified the cabling, then you should look at your computer. Saturating a Gigabit link is actually quite a challenge. – longneck Mar 7 '14 at 14:49

What you are looking for is NOT a fiber channel switch. You are looking for an ethernet switch with SFP slots, unless you want an antique (GPIB slot). While you can purchase SFP switches with no copper slots, it's often not the best or most affordable solution. Then you need SFPs (Small Form Pluggables) which are the devices that actually connect to LC fiber optic connectors and plug into the slots.

LC connector Bulkhead

On the low end you can get Gigabit 8 copper 2/SFP ethernet switches for $100 each, or less. Be careful not to buy 100Mbit when shopping used stuff. Much larger than life, an SFP:


An SFP switch (this exact one possibly no longer available new, but there are many, and used works fine in most cases anyway) with 16 copper and 4 SFP (fiber) slots

SFP Switch

With no connectors in place, if going there, use LCs - everything "modern" does. But you'll find the process is rather expensive to set up for doing, or to have done.

You also need to figure out what your fiber is (singlemode/multimode - & what core size (50 or 62.5) if multimode, and whether it's OM3 or 4 if it's 50), so you can buy the right SFPs, and you'll want to carefully look on ebay to see if you can find some at a reasonable price. It's not a small undertaking (I got a baptism by needing to do a large project with virtually no budget 3-1/2 years ago.)

If your house is not huge, there may be a simple wiring issue with not getting full throughput on Cat5e - it should be good for gigabit up to 100 meters - 328 feet. That would be lot cheaper to solve than terminating a bunch of fiber, unless you have the tools already, which seems unlikely. Often electricians who are not network techs mess up Cat5e installs, IME. Phone techs are (or were circa 2004) prone to use Cat3 or Cat5 jacks since many of them did not stock Cat5e jacks and few customers were actually using gigabit then to notice - that might be the first thing to check. Better switches can also be set up to trunk several copper connections (if several connections are available between places you want to go) to provide 2, 3, or up to 8 GB over copper.

To clarify a bit with more space than is in comments - fusion spliced no-polish (prepolished) conectors are OK, but expensive (both to buy and to have the equipment to use, though you can rent a splicer.) A fusion splice is, in most cases with a modern splicer, a good splice. The field-termination mechanical splice connectors are great in the eyes of the salesmen, and nobody else...a mechanical splice has several issues right from the get-go, and despite the protestations of the salesmen, real users find that the index-matching gel used to make them somewhat better than they would be without it dries out, turns brown, or both over time, making the connector lose light transmission ability. Epoxy polish (where the actual fiber is inserted in the connector and held with epoxy, then polished in the connector) is as good as you can get if you actually need a connector, assuming you do a decent polish job (not all that hard if you follow the correct procedures with the correct abrasives.) If you don't need a connector you can disconnect, a fusion splice is better.

  • Ecnerwal, thank you for your answer! I am in the Washington, D.C. region, so it would be a bit of a haul for you to come out here! Lived in New England about 15 years ago... Anyway, do you know of any particular models of SFP fiber switches that do well used and have 8-16 ports? I'm poking around but might not be asking google the right things... Also, we really might resort to an installer, but is there a good way to tell what kind of fiber we have? I don't think it's been looked at in 10 years. (And thanks for the Cat3/Cat5 tip!) – Shrout1 Mar 2 '14 at 14:02
  • Any thoughts on this switch? It seems to be available for cheap used... I'm not sure what kind of connector it would need; those appear to be SFP slots... Also, thoughts on FAST connectors? Appears "easy"... but I've only ever crimped RJ45... – Shrout1 Mar 2 '14 at 14:15
  • The fiber type should be imprinted on the exterior of the fiber cabling, usually every 2 feet. I'm not all that fond of D-link, but that's an opinion (based on my experience with some of their products - not that one); the last several I bought were 24 copper/4 SFP 3Com units from an ebay vendor (@$70 each). Basically figuring retired enterprise gear was better than new consumer gear. – Ecnerwal Mar 2 '14 at 17:33
  • I cannot recommend any of the "no polish" connectors, based on what I learned in sorting through this; well, other than the ones that fusion splice on, and a usable fusion splicer costs more than a car. Essentially you replace one connection (the connector) with 3 connections (the connector, a crummy splice to the fiber on one side, a crummy splice to the fiber on the other side.) Unlike copper (for the most part) mechanical optical splices can have a huge effect on your signal. I taught myself to do epoxy-polish connectors (which gets you back to just the connector affecting your signal.) – Ecnerwal Mar 2 '14 at 17:44

I'm not really sure if you'd even want to use the fiber here.

If I'm reading your question correctly, your application calls for full Gigabit Ethernet speeds over a long cable run. You might just need better (Cat 6 or Cat 6A) copper cabling.

If gigabit is not enough, I'd look into 10 GbE switches (one at each end of the connection) and Cat 7 cables with GG45 connectors. I wouldn't even consider fiber unless your cable runs greatly exceed 100m (which is not the case here) or you need extremely high speeds (40 GbE or more).

Each device connected to a switch can then use either normal Gigabit Ethernet NICs and Cat 5e or Cat 6 cabling to reduce cost while attaining gigabit speeds (as GG45 jacks accept normal RJ45 connectors), or use a 10 GbE NIC and the appropriate cabling for maximum throughput.

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