• Here's the Secret to Powering IT Without a Power Outlet

Every year, IT devices become smaller and more portable, bringing more capabilities to users around the office and further afield. But that only works as long as they have power. What happens when you don't have the outlets nearby to give your device the watts it needs?

Power over Ethernet (PoE) has evolved as a way to easily power connected devices using nothing more than an Ethernet cable. Both the power and the network data arrive via the same socket, making for a streamlined, low-footprint connection. Not only can this look professional and uncluttered when connecting VoIP handsets in an office, but it's also useful in situations where power isn't readily available.

For example, you might want to put security cameras around your building but don't want the expense of paying a licensed electrician to run power lines to them and installing electrical outlets. Running Ethernet cable to the rooftop, fence, or outbuilding where you want to install the unit is safer than running AC current, and in many cases the signal will be more reliable than Wi-Fi.

It can also be useful inside the office, where power is generally available but where there just aren't enough sockets, or where you want to keep the environment uncluttered. Many companies migrating to VoIP handsets might not want more power cables trailing under the desk, for example, or might worry about overloading existing outlets. PoE is perfect for these situations.

PoE installation requires little more than an endpoint device capable of supporting it at one end, and an Ethernet switch with PoE-capable ports at the other. You can often buy switches that dedicate a subset of ports to PoE connections, leaving the rest for non-powered network connections to other equipment with ready access to power.

PoE began in the early 2000s with the 802.3af standard, which allowed up to 15.4 watts of power per Ethernet port. Then, the 802.at standard emerged with support for an extra ten watts per port. However, if you have already invested in non-PoE switches, you can opt for an injector. This is a unit connected to AC power that sits between your VoIP handset or security camera and your conventional switch, adding the power into the Ethernet connection between them.

There's also a newer standard called 4PPoE (802.3bt), which increases the power capability still further to a maximum of 71.3w. This is designed for high-powered endpoints that carry more on-board processing functionality.

While security cameras and VoIP handsets might be the most likely use cases for most customers, PoE does have some other applications. These include powering outdoor radios for wireless communication, along with remote routers or switches in areas where there's only a single Ethernet port but where you need to support several PoE devices. Inside a building, PoE can be useful for low-power kiosks, especially in settings where equipment must be set up and torn down quickly.

You might also find PoE useful in industrial settings where safety or reliability regulations don't permit the use of RF technology. Installing Ethernet-powered sensors can be a good way to configure industrial environments with minimal fuss.

Consider PoE as a way to push valuable technology to those last areas of your business where electrons are hard to find. Used judiciously, it can make everything from digital signage to IP-powered intercoms a possibility, wherever you want to put them.