Your Quick Guide to SFP Transceivers

In today’s blog post we will talk about SFP Transceivers. Even though they are currently a crucial component in our everyday used network components, it may be a little tricky to completely understand them.

What are SFP Transceivers?

Let’s start by talking about what are SFP : SFP transceivers are network components that are used as interface modules between network equipment and cabling, which can be copper or fiber optics. SFP in the name stands for small form-factor pluggable, and the transceiver is the portmanteau of transmitter and receiver. SFP Transceivers have replaced the gigabit interface converters and they can sometimes be referred to as Mini Gigabit Interface Converter. 

Figure 1: QSFPTEK 1000BASE-SX SFP transceiver

There are many qualities that make SFP Transceivers attractive in the industry, such as their smaller sizes. Furthermore, due to their hot-pluggable nature, which means that you can adjust or upgrade your network without making major changes in the infrastructure, these components are majorly preferred by users. There are several types of SFP Transceivers that vary in transmitter and receiver specifications. This results in a large number of options from which the user can pick. 

SFP Transceiver Specifications

We have already mentioned there are varieties of SFP Transceivers. There are many specifications to take into account before purchasing an SFP transceiver. If a user does not comprehend the specifications of the module it might result in a purchase of an inadequate or incompatible module. Let’s talk about what makes one SFP transceiver different from another.

SFP Transceiver Data Rate Capabilities

SFP transceiver data rates range from 100 Mbps to 400Gbps depending on the type of your component. So, it is crucial to analyze the network well in order to understand the minimum requirements you will look for in an SFP Transceiver.

SFP Transceiver Distance

SFP module distance means how far your data will travel. The distance of an SFP Transceiver is generally specified as SR for short-range or LR for long-range, and it can be somewhere between 500 meters and 160 kilometers. Whether the transceiver uses Single-Mode Fiber or Multi-Mode Fiber is also a factor that affects its range. Because of their physical structure, Single-Mode SFPs are capable of transmitting long distances, however, they are generally more costly. Whereas Multi-Mode SFPs are much more economical, but their structure allows them to send data for a shorter distance. When purchasing an SFP transceiver, users should take the distance into account and make sure that its range is long enough to send data.

SFP Transceiver Media - Copper or Fiber Optics

While some SFP Transceivers are equipped to work with both copper and fiber optics, it is not always the case. Users should know the infrastructure of the network to pick the well-suited component. Furthermore, some types of SFPs may also use Direct Attach Cables which are used for interconnections between networking equipment, which can be incredibly useful in cases such as connecting components in a server room. 

SFP Compatibility with Your Network

Many people prefer original equipment manufacturer components to ensure compatibility, which is the safer option to take. Nevertheless, this option generally results in higher prices and a lower range in variety. Third-party manufacturers such as QSFPTEK participate in Multi-Source Agreement Standards which means they produce SFPs that are compatible with many other brands. However, some manufacturers use vendor lock-in practices to prevent the usage of third-party SFP transceivers.

SFP Transceiver Types Evolution

Having explored the specifications, now we can freely move on to the types that are available to us. Firstly, we have the standard SFP, which can be found as 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps. Standard SFP transceivers can be found using single or multi-mode fiber connection which results in a variety of distance options.

Moving up from here, we have SFP+, which is an enhanced version of the regular SFP transceiver. SFP+ can be found as 10Gbps, and size-wise it has the same dimensions as regular SFP. SFP+ also consists of DAC ports as well, which makes it a more attractive choice. 

Furthermore, we have SFP28 and SFP56 that increase the rate up to 25Gbps and 50 Gbps respectively (with encoding overhead), while still maintaining the same size of SFP. SFP28 also features the DAC port just like SFP+. However, unlike SFP or SFP+, it does not support copper media. 

There are also two other types of SFP. One of them is cSFP (compact small form-factor pluggable), which has two channels. The other one is SFP-DD (small form-factor pluggable double density) which uses a new standard for doubling port density. 

Moving a little further than SFP, we have a new type of SFP which is the QSFP Transceiver. QSFP stands for Quad Small Form-factor pluggable. Which, in logic, is pretty similar to SFP. The main difference is the word “Quad” in the name, which simply defines that it has 4 channels. Due to its channel size, we can simply state that the total data rate limit increases by four times. Even though no type of QSFP (Standard, QSFP+, QSFP28, etc.) uses copper media, we increase the rate heavily. Using QSFP-DD we can achieve a rate of 400 Gbps. 

Figure 2: QSFPTEK 40GBASE-SR4 QSFP+ transceiver

In almost all of these options, there are also more varieties that change in the wavelength the module uses, Single/Multi-Mode fiber usage, and the distance range of the module. This offers the user a big variety of options however it also underlines the importance of knowledge of the user's own network specifications.

To Summarize SFP Transceivers

To summarize we can say picking an SFP Transceiver module completely depends on the system requirements. Users should consider the total flow through the network, the physical distance data will take, the physical media data will travel through, and compatibility restrictions. Of course, there are many other user-dependent factors that would contribute to selecting an SFP Transceiver such as the physical size of the module, the number of channels it consists of, and ultimately its cost, which is heavily dependent on other specifications. Hopefully, with this blog article, we hope to extend your knowledge in this subject!

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