Power over Ethernet or PoE describes any of several standardized or ad-hoc systems which pass electrical power along with data on Ethernet cabling. This allows a single cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to devices such as wireless access points or IP cameras. Unlike standards such as Universal Serial Bus which also power devices over the data cables, PoE allows long cable lengths. Power may be carried on the same conductors as the data, or it may be carried on dedicated conductors in the same cable.
There are several common techniques for transmitting power over Ethernet cabling. Two of them have been standardized by IEEE 802.3. Since only two of the four pairs are needed for 10BASE-T or 100BASE-TX, power may be transmitted on the unused conductors of a cable. In the IEEE standards, this is referred to as Alternative B. Power may also be transmitted on the data conductors by applying a common-mode voltage to each pair. Because twisted-pair Ethernet uses differential signalling, this does not interfere with data transmission. The common mode voltage is easily extracted using the center tap of the standard Ethernet pulse transformer. This is similar to the phantom power technique commonly used for powering audio microphones. In the IEEE standards, this is referred to as Alternative A.
In addition to standardizing existing practice for spare-pair and common-mode data pair power transmission, the IEEE PoE standards provide for signalling between the power source equipment (PSE) and powered device (PD). This signaling allows the presence of a conformant device to be detected by the power source, and allows the device and source to negotiate the amount of power required or available. Up to a theoretical 51 watts is available for a device, depending on the version of the standard in use and the vendor of the hardware.
The IEEE standard for PoE requires category 5 cable or higher for high power levels, but can operate with category 3 cable if less power is required. Power is supplied in common mode over two or more of the differential pairs of wires found in the Ethernet cables and comes from a power supply within a PoE-enabled networking device such as an Ethernet switch or can be injected into a cable run with a midspan power supply.
The original IEEE 802.3af-2003[ PoE standard provides up to 15.4 W of DC power (minimum 44 V DC and 350 mA) to each device. Only 12.95 W is assured to be available at the powered device as some power is dissipated in the cable.
The updated IEEE 802.3at-2009 PoE standard also known as PoE+ or PoE plus, provides up to 25.5 W of power. The 2009 standard prohibits a powered device from using all four pairs for power. Some vendors have announced products that claim to be compatible with the 802.3at standard and offer up to 51 W of power over a single cable by utilizing all four pairs in the Category 5 cable.
Both of these amendments have since been incorporated into the IEEE 802.3-2012 publication.
Comparison with other integrated data and power standards
PoE provides both data and power connections in one cable, so equipment doesn’t require a separate cable for each need. For equipment that does not already have a power or data connection, PoE can be attractive when the power demand is modest. For example, PoE is useful for IP telephones, wireless access points, cameras with pan tilt and zoom (PTZ), and remote Ethernet switches. PoE can provide long cable runs e.g. 100 m (330 ft) and deliver 12 W of galvanically isolated power PoE-plus provides even more power.
There are competing data and power technologies. The Universal Serial Bus (USB) provides both data and power, but it is designed for short cables with a maximum length of 5 m (16 ft) and provides less than 2.5 W of non-isolated power. It is less expensive than PoE, and works well for low power peripherals such as a computer mouse, a headset/microphone or a serial port. Some peripherals, such as speakers, scanners and printers, need more power than USB can provide. IEEE 1394 (FireWire) is similar to USB but can provide substantially more power (45 W) at a distance of 4.5 m.
If a device already has power available but no data link, then PoE may not be attractive. A wireless data connection such as IEEE 802.11 may be more economical than running a data cable for the device. Alternatively, there are power line communication technologies that can use power cables for transmitting data. Using some power line modems may be more economical than running a cable.
When data rate and power requirements are both low, other approaches may be viable. Mobile phones, for example, use batteries for power and antennas for communication. Remote weather sensors use very low data rates, so batteries (sometimes supplemented with solar power) and custom wireless data links are used.
Depending on the application, some of the advantages with PoE over other technologies may be:
• Inexpensive cabling carries both data and power
• Power to equipment can be remotely cycled
• Fast data rate