More power to the Ethernet

Lalou Ramos
12 May 2006

The IEEE's 802.3af standard - better known as power over Ethernet (PoE) - arguably expanded Ethernet's reach inside and outside the LAN by creating rules on delivering electrical power over Cat 5 cables to a range of networked devices requiring less than 15.4 watts of power. PoE meant IP phones on LANs or metro Ethernet links wouldn't be at the mercy of power outages. It also meant easy installation for Wi-Fi access points, whether in enterprises or on lampposts for outdoor meshed Wi-Fi networks.

Now the IEEE is drumming up efforts to facilitate the ratification of a higher power standard known as PoE Plus or 802.3at, which will enable increased power delivery to as much as 30 watts. A task force that will look into the standard's specification - and sort out technical challenges such as DC power/data channel interference and overheating issues - is expected to ratify the new standard by mid-2007.

The reasons behind the big rush to put more power over Ethernet networks aren't hard to figure out. PoE dramatically simplified the deployment of IP devices in areas where they were traditionally challenging and costly to deploy. As a result, more and more end-users see the value of powered devices, which, in turn, benefits the entire PoE value chain involving silicon, power infrastructure, cabling, network infrastructure and network devices manufacturers.

Technology market research company Venture Development Corporation (VDC) puts the total size of the current PoE market at around $2.7 billion, and will exceed $5.8 billion in 2008, with IP phones and WLAN access points accounting for 87% of total sales. PoE is also gaining traction in Asia, according to IDC, which foresees the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) PoE market to grow from $96 million in 2004 to $1.14 billion in 2009.

Warming up to PoE
VDC research analyst Spyros Photopoulos said new vertical markets are just beginning to warm up to PoE. 'With the ratification of the higher power standard, we expect even more verticals entering the PoE space. Leading the pack right now are security, building control, retail and RFID industries, to name a few,' Photopoulos said.

Potential apps for improved PoE range from building control applications like thermostats and smoke detectors to point of sale (PoS) devices like signature terminals and bar-code scanners, Photopoulos says.

'Consolidating all these PoS devices requires higher power standards and this is where PoE Plus comes into play - the new standard will minimize the hassles and clutter associated with abundant cabling,' he says.

John Smidth, senior product manager, ADC Krone, says PoE Plus will greatly benefit users of pan-tilt-zoom security cameras, laptop computers and electronic kiosks that require 25-45 watts of power to function reliably.

'Electronic kiosks, in particular, are costly to install as they require separate data and power cabling. With PoE Plus, we foresee increases in the number of electronic kiosks in places like airports and other public areas that mobile workers frequent,' Schmidt said.
Russell Julius, Asia Pacific technical director for Systimax Solutions, believes PoE could power almost any device.

'It could potentially replace devices that are powered by USB, even charging and powering laptop computers using PoE Plus. I really believe that imagination, and not power, limits PoE utilization,' Julius says.

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