Not sure what the difference between a patch panel and a switch is? Don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. Around 900 people search for the answer to this question each month.

Here’s the short version of it:

Patch panels are passive devices that are used to organize network cables. Switches are active devices that filter and route data on a network.

If you’re a new (or aspiring) network technician, though, you’ll likely need more context than that. Let’s unpack the answer in a bit more detail so that you can have a better understanding of the roles the two devices play on networks – and an idea of when to use each.

The role of a switch

Network switches actively filter and route data – in other words, they take incoming data and determine where to send it to, then send it only to the intended recipients.

Most often, fiber optic switches do this by using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to make connections when transmitting data. This involves manipulating micro mirrors to steer optical beams from inputs to outputs. OSC and RCF technologies are used more rarely.

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Functionally, switches connect clients with a network.

The role of a patch panel

Fiber patch panels, on the other hand, are passive fiber devices. They do not route data; they simply act as fiber connection points that are used to interconnect with the network fiber.

In theory, you could run fiber optic cables directly from a fiber optic switch all the way to a client endpoint – but in a network of any complexity, this would get very difficult to manage very quickly.

Running cables at this length makes them both more difficult to keep track of and more difficult to move. For example, if a server needed to be put on a different subnet, you would probably need to do a bit of construction work to rearrange the entire length of the cable – you might need to rip up the floor or take down a wall to get the cable to its new location.

It’s much easier to use fiber patch panels. This way, if a connection needs to be changed, it can be accessed at the patch panel rather than rerouted from the switch. Instead of ripping up the floor, you may be able to unplug one connector and plug in another.

Patch panels make it easier to install and manage fiber cables.

Why are switches and patch panels often mixed up?

Given the fact that the two types of fiber equipment serve markedly different purposes in a network, why are they so often confused?

The answer is simple: They look similar.

Both fiber patch panels and fiber network switches usually include frames with rows of ports. But there is one relatively easy way to tell them apart: Fiber optic switches require power.

Will using a patch panel in conjunction with a switch reduce speed?

Patch panels are intended to complement switches, but sometimes, technicians are concerned that implementing patch panels after a network switch will slow down data.

Good news: Patch panels, when implemented correctly, have virtually no effect on the speed of data transmission. In fact, you can use multiple patch panels after a network switch, and the loss on individual connectors will still be negligible.

Again: Patch panels are meant to complement switches. Don’t overlook their usefulness in network design.

Looking for a fiber patch panel?

Hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of what a fiber patch panel is, what a fiber optic switch is, and what the differences are between the two types of equipment.

Both play important roles in network design – and understanding their functions will help you to build, manage, and optimize networks more effectively.

And, if you’re looking to purchase a fiber patch panel for your network application, our technical experts can help.

At FIBERONE, we offer a variety of fiber patch panels, including:

If you’re not sure which variation will best meet your needs, get in touch with us.

We help network engineers and technicians to access the quality fiber products they need, quickly and with full confidence in performance. We’ll make sure that you order the right fiber optic splitter so that your installation goes according to plan – and you never need to make a return.

Talk to a technical expert today to order the right fiber patch panel for your application.