Demand for media converters grows worldwide

June 1, 1998

Demand for media converters grows worldwide

The changing composition of lan and premises cabling has led to an increased use of media converters, particularly in North America.

Stephen Montgomery and Peter T. Jewett

ElectroniCast Corp.

There is strong user demand for greater bandwidth and increased interconnectivity to the desktop and throughout the network. This is matched by rapidly growing demand for global broadband interconnectivity. Interactive multimedia terminals, videoconferencing, and rapid access to massive databases increase productivity while providing rapid return on investment.

Such expanded capability, however, must often be obtained without making the current network elements obsolete. Local area network (lan) applications illustrate this trend. lans are becoming larger and more complex. Reconfiguration, relocation, and extension of lans are occurring more frequently, due to organization restructuring, advances in computer usage, and the trend toward decentralized computing.

These changes to lan cabling represent a major ongoing operational expense and a disruption of work for many companies. For example, adding capabilities often requires that network administrators upgrade their existing lans to another media type--for example, copper-to-fiber, multimode-to-singlemode fiber, or even coaxial-to-unshielded twisted-pair copper. By using media converters, the network administrator can achieve these upgrades inexpensively.

Market figures for lan and premises network media converters indicate that network administrators are turning to media converters with increasing frequency--and that this trend will continue well into the future. As detailed in the table, there are several possible media, mode, and topology conversion types. In this article, however, we are highlighting the three basic media conversions:

copper-to-fiber (both singlemode and multimode)

copper-to-copper (includes coaxial and twisted-pair)

multimode-to-singlemode fiber.

A $117 million market

The global consumption value for media converters for lan and premises applications reached $117 million in 1997 (see Fig. 1). North America held a 66% share with $77 million. Yet Europe represents a rapidly growing market. Europe held a 27% share of the market in 1997. This should increase to a 34% share ($181 million) by 2007. The Japan/Pacific Rim market share is lower, with 5% in 1997. This region has been typically installing "new builds," instead of over-building legacy networks.

Most of the "rest of world" market share in 1997 reflected use in Latin America. This category`s market share will dramatically increase to 11% (more than $58 million) by 2007. Latin America will maintain its dominance in this segment, as indicated by its use of interconnect cables. The region`s consumption of interconnect cable in lan and premises networks will increase at a pace of over 20% per year, rising from a 1997 value of $285 million to over $700 million by 2002.

Cable choice drives market

The demand for media converters, of course, derives from the need to use different kinds of cabling in the same application. The requirements of each network will determine whether multiple cable types are necessary--and, in turn, which media converters might play a role.

Data transmission rates of less than 100 Mbits/sec, and especially less than 50 Mbits/sec, typically do not require the use of fiber optics. These links use electronic transmission via twisted pair (Category 5 or enhanced Category 5) or coaxial cable. However, several factors may make the addition of fiber optics a good choice for certain applications, thus leading to the use of copper-to-fiber media converters:

Link lengths may need to be longer than 500 m.

Resistance to electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference may be necessary.

Optical solutions have a much wider

bandwidth capability and do not build up the larger electrical potential associated with long runs of coaxial cable.

Because of complete electrical isolation

between the transceivers, the possibility of ground loops is eliminated.

There may be a desire for increased

system security, which fiber may meet due to the near-impossibility of tapping into the optical-fiber cable, as, for example, in closed-circuit TV for security systems.

Another driver of the use of fiber optics in lan and premises applications, which in turn drives the demand for copper-to-fiber media converters, is the decreasing price of fiber-optic cable. The average long-term (10-year) price of the various configurations of both singlemode and multimode fiber-optic cables will drop at an average of about 2% to 3% per year. This long-term price decline will be driven by

increasing standardization and inter-

changeability between products of different suppliers, under customer pressure;

greater production volume of certain

cable designs, with increased automation and redesign for lower-cost production;

more competition, as market vol-

ume becomes more attractive for new entrants;

a trend toward more fibers per cable,

decreasing the relative added cost of cable jacketing.

The horizontal cable market reflects an increasing use of fiber in lans and premises networks. "Horizontal" is defined as the link from the wiring closet (on each floor) to the work area. Twisted-pair copper represented over 70% of the horizontal consumption of interconnect link cable in 1997. By 2007, however, copper`s share of the market will decrease to about 50% of the horizontal cabling consumption value, as fiber gets closer to the desktop.

Once an administrator decides to use fiber, the choice between multimode and singlemode arises--which in turn may lead to the necessity for multimode-to-singlemode converters as well as copper-to-fiber units. Several factors may influence which type of fiber is used. For example, tia/eia standards for Fiber Distributed Data Interface (fddi) support the use of 62.5/125-micron multimode fiber with a compatible simplex or duplex SC connector. fddi, developed for 100-Mbit/sec applications, actually operates at 125 Mbits/sec with framing, address, and traffic control bits for packet transmission. fddi is ideal for large commercial building cabling installations and applications in which large volumes of data must be transmitted between several locations, since it can accommodate up to 500 network devices and distances of up to 2 km.

On the other hand, singlemode fiber provides longer distance and significantly higher bandwidth. In 1997, singlemode fiber represented over 35% of the North American consumption value in the campus backbone. However, longer distance and higher bandwidth also require higher-priced optoelectronics (transmitters and receivers). Laser-diode-based transmitters and receivers are more expensive than those based on light-emitting diodes used for shorter-distance, multimode applications.

While unshielded twisted-pair and fiber-optic cables are typically used for lan and premises data networks, high-performance coaxial cables provide a high degree of immunity to electromagnetic and radio frequency interference, which may be critically important in "noisy" environments, as in manufacturing. However, coaxial cable, once so prevalent in lans, is disappearing as a medium of choice and has been dropped from the standards-based model as a recommended medium for new construction. This factor is at the heart of the copper-to-copper media converter market. In a related vein, twisted-pair cable--Category 3 (voice grade) and Category 4 (usable up to 16 Mbits/sec)--is rapidly being displaced by Category 5 and enhanced Category 5. This trend also will lead to a need for media conversion.

The increased use of copper-to-fiber and multimode-to-singlemode fiber media converters for premises backbone applications is driven by the demand for high bandwidth and faster data rates, especially for large installations. These lan and premises networks are currently designed for future requirements, such as voice, data, video, isdn, imaging, and multimegabit capabilities.

However, smaller commercial building data network installations, with slower data speed and lower bandwidth requirements, often continue existing backbone wiring practices and install copper. Thus, copper-to-fiber media converters may never be needed. However, media/mode and topology conversions will continue to be in demand.

Industry impressions

The factors described above have made copper-to-fiber media converters the market leader. Copper-to-fiber (or fiber-to-copper) conversions represented 87% of the market ($67 million) in North America in 1997 (see Fig. 2). The copper-to-fiber function will hold this lead in consumption value market share as well. By 2007, it will represent 81% of the market, a total of $185 million.

This does not mean that other converter types will not see strong growth. According to Cheri Beranek Podzimek, director of marketing at Transition Networks (Minneapolis, MN), "The singlemode-fiber media converter market is exploding. Singlemode sales quadrupled last year."

Although this article focuses on lan applications, it is important to realize that access and metropolitan area network (man) applications are substantial. According to Joe Toste, director of marketing for the lan Products Group at Digi International (Minnetonka, MN), "North America holds a 65% market share of a $500 million media converter market [including lans, mans, and wide area networks]. The largest driver is the economic consideration of a communication network administrator to buy a fiber-optic switch module [port] versus buying a media converter."

Bob Flesher, senior product manager of lan products at Canoga Perkins Corp. (Chatsworth, CA), agrees that "the man is the growth area." lan extension applications, from the service provider`s central office to the customer`s premises, invites a choice between fiber-based solutions versus the use of unshielded twisted pair. Higher computer speeds are driving the demand for media converters, he says.

Flesher added that the lan extension market is very competitive. "Chile, for example, is aggressively utilizing fiber-optic lan extension, pulling fiber [central office-to-business] and offering 10-Mbit/sec service."

"Other applications, such as high-density residential [apartments and condominiums] are showing a strong potential for fiber deployment," says Bradford Winkler, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing for lanart Corp. (Needham, MA). Yoseph L. Linde, chairman of lanart, stresses the importance of having the capability to monitor all physical uplink and downlink failures.


The market for media converters used in lan and lan extension applications will continue to demonstrate impressive growth potential. Currently there are six to eight "first tier" media converter manufacturers, with another 20 "second tier" competitors aiming at this fiber upgrade market. u

Stephen Montgomery is president and Peter T. Jewett is a research analyst/marketing associate at ElectroniCast Corp. (San Mateo, The estimates in this article are based on the company`s new "lan/Premise Network Media Converters Global Market Forecast Service."

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