Do all network switches have fiber connections?

Short answer: No.

But, most of the enterprise grade switches have a few SFP ports (Generally 1,2 or 4 ports) which can be populated with SFP modules (at additional cost) to enable fiber connectivity. Network Switches don’t come pre-populated with SFP modules and they need to be purchased additionally depending on the number of fiber connections that are required to be connected to the switch.

SFP = Small Form-factor Pluggable (A fiber interface). Some Switches may have Mini-GBIC modules as well. GBIC = GigaBit Interface Converter. Both of them do the same job of providing fiber interfaces to a network switch, but the size of the fiber ports/ modules are different.

So, if you happen to see the data sheet of a switch and you notice SFP ports/ Mini-Gbic ports, you can be sure that these switches can be connected with fiber cables.

As you must be familiar, Network switches come in various sizes and various capacities. They are normally referred to using the number of copper ports they have. So, 5 Port Switches means there are 5 copper ports. 8 Port switches means there are 8 Copper ports. 24/48 Port switches mean that there are 24/48 copper ports.

Many of the smaller switches (5 port, 8 port, etc) and many switches that are targeted for the home segment may not come with fiber ports / SFP ports. The larger switches – 16 port, 24 port, 48 port, etc. meant for enterprise usage generally have built-in SFP ports which can be connected to the fiber cable using SFP modules, fiber patch cords, couplers and fiber patch panel.

These switches generally have 1 / 2 / 4 empty SFP slots and sometimes these SFP ports are shared with Copper ports. In that case, if one SFP module is connected with a fiber interface, one copper port in the switch becomes inactive. But many switches have dedicated SFP ports as well.

There are certain network switches that are dedicated for fiber cable connectivity. In these switches, all the ports can be populated with SFP / Mini-Gbic modules and hence all the ports can be connected with fiber cables. These are called fiber switches and there may be 5-port, 8-port, 16-port, 24-port fiber switches, etc. In such fiber switches it may be possible to connect a few copper interfaces (RJ-45) by populating the SFP module with a copper SFP module, instead of fiber SFP module. One needs to check with the manufacturer if this is possible with their switch.

The main advantage of having SFP / fiber ports integrated into a network switch is to connect the fiber cables in the same switch instead of having to buy a separate switch for that purpose. Even if a switch has 24/48 ports, there maybe a maximum of 1 or 2 fiber uplinks connecting to the switch and hence 1 or 2 SFP ports may be sufficient in most cases.

When fiber ports are integrated along with copper ports, the cost becomes lesser as they these switches are produced in bulk. Besides, SFP fiber modules are optional and can be purchased by people who require fiber connections – Others need not buy these expensive modules. Yes, they are quite expensive when compared to the price of the switch!

But when the fiber/SFP ports are integrated with network switches, the basic cost of the switch increases. So, people who don’t have any intention of using fiber connections, end up paying a small additional cost for a functionality that is not required (for them).

The number of SFP ports present in a switch are limited and in most switches its either 1 or 2. For certain applications/ connections this may not be sufficient and customers maybe forced to use additional switches/ buy fiber switches to accommodate additional fiber connections.

Related Article: Overview of Active and Passive Components used in a Computer Network.

You can follow the latest Computer Networking/IT Products released for homes/small businesses & reviews by subscribing to this blog with your email address in the top right-hand sidebar box: ‘Follow by E-mail’. You can expect one mail per week (max).