PoE Power Distribution – The Future for Effective Building Automation


Having met with many factory representatives this past year whose companies are developing this technology, in my opinion it is time to start talking seriously about broadening the use of PoE in system design. The current IEEE 802.3af PoE (Power over Ethernet) standard was just the first “shot across the bow” in network power distribution and it’s 15W (~1A@12V) per port limitation is just not robust enough to support most equipment – utilizing only one twisted pair for power and 3 pair for data. That is about to change…

The Technology

For the techies out there, this explains the solution.

Cat 5 cable uses four twisted pairs for data and was commonly used for 100MB/s bandwidth network applications. Cat 6 represents a significant upgrade with larger diameter copper conductors capable of supporting 1oGB/s bandwidth and a bit more wattage (or amps), inspiring the proposed IEEE 802.3at (PoE+) standard (compliant equipment is available today) offering 30W (~2A@12V) per port. A good start, but the technology that will change low-voltage system design is the coming new IEEE 802.3 4-Pair standard being researched. For the non-electrical engineers out there like me, think – the similar technology utilizing electrical outlets for home networks: four twisted copper pairs sharing data and power transmission! Early talk is projecting 60W (~4A@12V) per port! Imagine the equipment that could be powered by a 1000W mid-span at 60W per port!

Electrical Contractors Losing Relevance Inside the Building?

I posted a previous article on “Disruptive Technologies” and this is a prime example. Could the electrical trade become limited to high-voltage power distribution only in the future? If you were a network contractor / security contractor / A/V contractor (etc.) – why would you design with conventional power distribution? PoE requires no special licensing and eliminates another subcontractor requiring supervision. If you are a building owner/manager, can you recognize the advantages to having an I.T. Support Group managing the power distribution for automated building systems? Companies are making such large investments in technology todayand hiring VERY highly trained and educated professionals to support and deploy it. Isn’t there a value message for having these specialists support and manage the power grid feeding these systems too?

Something Truly SPECIAL with PoE Power Distribution

So, what else does PoE bring to the table to enhance its value? Simple, easy optimization and supervision! Sustainable building design has become the de-facto standard for best practices in the construction industry. Lowering power consumption and simplifying infrastructure are KEY tenets of this design approach. Network capable, IP Addressable power distribution devices offer simple ways to auto-negotiate voltage and power loads, enabling proper voltage distribution and limiting power use to only what is consumed at the edge during operation. A traditional 6A low-voltage power supply connects a transformer to the grid and continuously pulls at least 50W of power. The definition of inefficient power design… In addition, intelligent power distribution offers the ability to use PoE systems for life-safety applications too. I know many fire marshals are looking at this technology closely. The security industry has developed a standard for this solution: UL294b. Other building automation industries should be following suit. This is the future…

Does Your Organization Have a Technology Road Map?

Technology has an effective window, similar to the vegetables in your fridge. Not a few days, but certainly a 5-10 year time-frame. If your company is not planning for these changes now, current budgets are certainly being spent investing in technologies likely to become obsolete in the near future and preventing access to system options that will be main-stream features/functions needed in the foreseeable future.

Douglas Levin is a consultant working for ASSA ABLOY, Inc. Please reach out to him on LinkedIn, if you would like more information regarding this discussion.

About Doug Levin

Doug is a certified (PSP, AHC, LEED AP), experienced business development professional with a focus on the physical security industry. With a diverse background that includes delivering products & services through multiple channels (manufacturing, distribution, specialty & general contracting), he brings a broad industry perspective that adds greater value for his clients. Having decades of experience with sales engineering and design-build of low-voltage automated systems, he also offers a strong emphasis on technical knowledge and consulting services. His career has included responsibility for: profit & loss, operations and sales management with front-line experience in estimating, sales/marketing, project management and developing security design documents & spec writing.
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