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Power-over-Ethernet technology to reduce mains supply problems

Antony Adshead

Power-over-Ethernet technology, unveiled at the CeBIT show in Hanover last week, could simplify the design and implementation of networks in most businesses, according to industry experts.

The technology, which routes DC electrical power over Ethernet cabling, will allow cheaper, more flexible deployment of devices such as wireless Lan and voice-over-IP equipment.

Steve Broadhead, of network equipment testing company NSS, said, "It simplifies the design of an office, alleviates the need for endless mains sockets and enables networks to be installed in more 'awkward' environments.

"The obvious application is for wireless Lans - access points are often located in ceilings. There are possible applications wherever it is awkward to locate mains power." In addition, it allows centralised detection of a company's devices, data and power management.

Products were unveiled by 3Com and Foundry at CeBIT, but all major network suppliers will be shipping equipment, despite IEEE standard 802.3af still being at "draft specification" stage.

According to Broadhead, adopters of power-over-Lan should not be concerned that standards have not been ratified. "There is a lot of support for this technology. I would not be afraid to invest in advance."

Quocirca analyst Clive Longbottom said, "Because power-over-Ethernet uses spare wires in thin Ethernet cabling, it is probably not possible to go above 200W. Powering a desktop is out of the question, but laptops will be possible in the near future."

Power benefits

  • Decreases installation costs for devices such as voice-over-IP phones, wireless Lan access points or webcams 
  • Centrally controls the power supply, allowing functions such as hard resets to be carried out remotely 
  • Allows 48V DC to be transmitted over spare data pairs in 10/100 Ethernet cabling, sufficient for devices up to 15.4W.

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