Power over Ethernet (PoE) is starting to see solid acceptance, offering a way to simplify the installation of many nodes by providing power as well as communications. It will be a key factor in the emergence of voice over Internet phones while gaining solid acceptance in other applications.
The extension of the ubiquitous IEEE standard provides about 13W of power, enough for many types of equipment such as cameras or phones. PoE is expected to become a widely used technology in many fields, with some already using it in the majority of their new products.
Venture Development Corp. of Natick, MA, predicts that shipments of PoE-enabling chips will soar from 133 million in 2004 to 496 million in 2007. Chipmakers are racing to meet demand.
"In 2004, we launched nine new products to support PoE," says Steve Hemmah, product marketing manager at Texas Instruments.
Vendors note that growth will follow the model of the Universal Serial Bus (USB), which provides power for many applications.
"Just as we've seen a range of USB-powered devices, we'll see a proliferation of devices powered by a CAT5 cable," says Paul Greenland, marketing director at National Semiconductor's direct power marketing group.
PoE is tied to the hottest growth areas in electronics and communications. The ability to attach products without worrying about power lines gives users far more flexibility.
Companies in large buildings might be able to move Wi-Fi hubs or other networking equipment to locations that provide improved coverage.
"You can even put a wireless LAN port in at the best location, say, on the ceiling where there's not an electrical connection," says Ciaran Connell, marketing and strategy manager of Freescale's Analog Products Division in Toulouse, France.
Most observers feel that the main market will be Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology that seems on the brink of taking off.
"The largest segment will be VoIP phones and enterprise switches. Security will also make big moves with cameras and scanners," Hemmah says. Medical applications and entertainment products will also use PoE.
National Semiconductor recently unveiled what it says is the first single-chip solution for PoE. That makes it possible to add power capabilities to compact products. It also simplifies design compared to competitive products with two or more devices, which need to have separate ground lines for each device.
"There can be problems if you have to reference separate grounds. It opens you up to more noise susceptibility," Greenland says.
Chipmakers are also making sure they address another issue related to providing power to remote nodes: not powering products that aren't designed to accept it.
"When you're sending power, you have to detect when someone has connected a non-PoE component to the network and make sure there's no power sent to it," Connell says.
Component designers are already looking forward to the adoption of the second version of the standard, which is currently being developed. PoE Plus will increase the amount of available power, which should also increase the available marketplace.
"The higher power version will open things up even further," says David McCallum, strategic product manager at Molex Inc. of Lisle, IL.