How PoE Can Help You Flex More Installation Muscle

Technical expert Bob Dolph explains why LED lighting is the next frontier for PoE, and how you can profit off it.

Back in the 1960s the big slogan echoed around the world was “Power to the People.” Today in the tech world the new and exciting slogan is “Power to the Tech.” I’m referring to power over Ethernet, commonly known as PoE. There are some very exciting developments happening with this technology.

In the past one of the frustrating things with installing devices such as video surveillance cameras was you needed to allow for power cabling and supplies.

Everyone got excited when IP cameras came along and eventually DC power could be transferred over the same Category (Cat) cabling. As other devices such as intercoms become IP capable the scope of PoE increased, but appeared to have a limited future. Then our PoE tech world exploded.

What was this wonderful PoE dynamic? It was the super energy-efficient light emitting diode (LED). If you are looking for a new sales and employment opportunity, this is a good place to start.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the winter BICSI conference in Orlando, Fla. If you are an integration tech or tech manager, you should get to know this organization and its events.

Believe me, these people are the most serious of anyone about cabling requirements and standards. The two big themes this year were PoE and fiber. If you haven’t heard it already, you’ll begin hearing about “digital electricity” along with PoE technology.

The rapid advances in LED lighting efficiency and the increased efforts to provide more PoE wattage have sparked this “Power to the Tech” revolution. A traditional tungsten 500W bulb can be replaced with a 17W LED bulb. You can start to see the excitement when one can place multiple 4.5W LED bulbs with a PoE switch reaching 100W capacity per cable.

Consider this use case. Farukh Aslam, CEO of Sinclair Holdings, is a real estate developer with a special interest in smart building technology and digital electricity. Recently Aslam renovated an older office building in Fort Worth, Texas, in which the ground floor housed the first two-story CVS location, operating a total low-voltage/LED lighting system — including powering the emergency lighting.

Along with other tenants in the building the 24V PoE system powers more than 2,000 lights using Ethernet cabling and Cisco switches. Another innovative move was to replace the 350kW emergency generator, which was occupying 515 square feet, with a 220kWh lithium-ion battery bank, thereby saving on both cost of maintenance and fuel cost of the generator.

An interesting final note is that since the entire system is low voltage, the developers received approval from code enforcement and typical code inspections were waived.

All this expanded low-voltage power technology makes sense when you think about it. A large number of consumer products today receive their power through step-down and often DC converter devices.

If you have a power system that, say, receives solar power on the roof, converts it to AC and then later converts it back to low-voltage DC, why not save on that energy loss from conversion and just go with an energy-efficient low-voltage system all the way? You’ll see this concept referred to as the “MicroGrid.”

As with any technology, PoE comes in many flavors and applications. It is important for techs to understand these variations. It started out in early 2000 with the IEEE 802.3AF2 Pair PoE at 7/15W for access control, thin clients, IP phones and fixed cameras.

It has quickly gone to 30W, 60W, and now even up to 100W with the IEEE 892.3BT (Type 4) four-pair PoE. (Tip: Experts say that if you are planning on PoE applications to consider Cat-6 and -6A. The conductor size is slightly larger — 23AWG vs. 24AWG with Cat-5 — and better suited to dissipate heat.)

Some good resources for additional PoE education are Anixter’s “Smart Building Infrastructures Best Practices” guide and PoE Texas’ “PoE Basics” and “PoE Project Planning” guides.

I hope you can envision such real-world opportunities in PoE. The adoption speed of this technology can make your head spin. I know traditional electricians are getting a little nervous that smart PoE technology is starting to invade on their long-held turf.

Tool Tip

It’s important for techs to have cost-effective, reliable PoE test equipment, so I’m highlighting the PoE tester and detector bundle from PoE Texas.

The tester will test for PoE power, measure available voltage, PoE current up to 500mA (28W), DC current (5A) and Ethernet line loss. It has DC connectors for measuring 24/48/56V installations.

The bundle also includes a handy palm-size PoE detector. It verifies various PoE powers sources and configurations with simple LED displays. The LED indicators will show as solid green, blue or red, as well as flashing, depending on the function being tested. Great for every tech’s pocket.

About the Author

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Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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