It appears that the “battle” between UTP cabled and Wi-Fi IP connectivity options has been won by wireless. Wi-Fi is now built-in to smart devices, laptops, IP cameras and other technologies used by our industry. End users have reduced the amount of cabling installed in their buildings, opting for the spreading of Wi-Fi connectivity via access points using the latest 802.11ac standard for communications.

There are obvious advantages to Wi-Fi. Portability of devices, ease of connectivity, and less network management required all add up to easier and “faster” connectivity. With the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), wireless IP is the preferred method of connection and in some cases (such as smart phones) is the only way to go. Fewer devices need to be wired, as a single access point can provide connectivity for dozens of individual devices.

Wired IP using Cat5e/6 is a more expensive connectivity option than Wi-Fi, both during the installation and the post-installation management of a proper IP network. Each jack needs its own cable, multiple jacks must be installed in various areas, cabling can be poorly performed and/or damaged by users, and cabling must be managed with up-to-date labeling and records. The dreaded “moves, adds and changes” can require new cables to be pulled at high installation costs. Cabled networks may require the complete replacement of obsolete cables in the near future as network bandwidth demands increase. 

Given those particulars, the advantages of primarily Wi-Fi connectivity in a LAN are obvious. But right when you think that Wi-Fi will finally drive the stake into the heart of network cabling, along comes the IEEE with a new Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard. In response to the growth and expansion of cabled IP networks along with the introduction of complex IoT devices, the IEEE formally approved the 802.3bt PoE standards on Sept. 27, 2018.

This new standard provides for two new power output capabilities: 60 and 90-100 watts of DC power over standard Cat5e/6 four-pair cabling. In IEEE they term the 60 watt as “Type 3” (PoE+) and the 90-watt standard as “Type 4” (PoE++). This standard will apply to 1, 2.5, 5, and 10 GBASE-T networks.

This new high-watt PoE may change the game of powering both IP and non-IP devices dramatically. In the overview, PoE provides centralized power distribution, so it can be quickly monitored and power problems can be rapidly addressed. PoE usage also provides the ability to connect UPS backup power supplies in the telco closet(s) so there can be some amount of standby power in case of main AC failure.

If the new PoE takes off in popularity, new generations of wired devices will need to be produced. Google indicates that wattage requirements for common IP devices are: laptop computer – 60 watts; 20-in. video monitor – 25 watts.

Such devices will need to have their power systems redesigned to work within the new PoE standards, so it will take a while for manufacturers to climb aboard the PoE power train.

If, and when, IP network switches are updated to provide the new higher wattage standard the pre-installed Cat5e/6 cabling suddenly takes on a new value to end users. We will likely see PoE “takeoff” devices that can be connected via network cabling, enabling the powering of non-IP devices such as common light bulbs.  

It is hard to estimate how end users and integrators will use this new powerful PoE, and how quickly it will become a common service. Wi-Fi will continue to provide connectivity to end-user BYOD devices, while the installation of cabled Ethernet will start to increase as the benefits of “big” PoE are accepted.

And if you’re planning to future-proof today’s cabling installations most of the major vendors are specifying Cat6a cable for 802.3bt PoE usage. Don’t bundle the cables together, as the transmission of 90-100 watts of power will generate substantial heat.