Powering and Connecting Devices that Need More (or Less) Wattage, Throughput, and Distance

Dec. 6, 2023
Emerging technologies gear up to support atypical LAN speeds, power, and distances.

Typical, run-of-the-mill local area networks (LANs) in the commercial office environment have traditionally used balanced four-pair twisted category cabling (e.g., Category 6 and Category 6A) in the horizontal designed in compliance with ANSI/TIA-568 structured cabling standards that limit channel distances to 100 meters (m). However, the reality is that with digitalization and the emergence of IoT, there is a need to connect and power more devices that don’t necessarily fall within a typical LAN topology—many of which need more or less speed and power afforded by four-pair category cabling. Many of these devices also reside in remote and large areas beyond 100m from the closest telecommunications room (TR). Think warehouses, airport terminals, shopping malls, parking garages, arenas, and manufacturing plants.

Adding a mini-TR into the LAN topology to connect and power devices beyond 100m is certainly possible. However, the cost of associated equipment, cabling, power, cooling, and maintenance can be tough to justify, especially for only a handful of devices. Another option is using fiber combined with local power (directly or with a PoE media converter) or a Class 2 power source via copper conductors such as those within hybrid fiber-copper cabling. However, fiber transmission is more expensive and overkill for remote low-speed devices. Plus, Class 2 power circuit distances are still limited, only able to deliver 75W to about 450m over a pair of 12-AWG conductors.

Non-standards-based extended-reach category cabling can also extend distances beyond 100m but is limited based on the performance of the cable, transmission speed, and amount of PoE power. These cables may support low-speed, low-power devices to about 200m, but typically only support high-speed, high-power devices slightly beyond 100m. As a non-standards-based option, extended-reach cables also come with some uncertainty. Performance can vary based on the cable manufacturer and the connected devices—an extended-reach link that successfully connects and powers a specific device is not necessarily guaranteed to function if the device changes.

With this technology landscape as a backdrop, two new options hitting the market make connecting and powering devices that don’t fit into a typical office LAN topology easier, more cost-effective, and more sustainable.

Addressing Low-Speed Devices and Sensors

Single-pair Ethernet (SPE) technology, historically deployed for shorter-reach links in automobiles and industrial systems, is gearing up to migrate into the commercial environment with 10BASE-T1L technology that supports 10-Mbits/sec data transmission to distances up to 1000m and delivers up to 52W of SPoE power depending on conductor size. Using 18-AWG conductors, SPoE can deliver 7.7W to 1000m and 20W to 445m. This technology is well positioned for connecting and powering sensors, surveillance cameras, access control panels, time and attendance clocks, HVAC controllers, and other devices that operate at no more than 10 Mbits/sec and require no more than 20 or 30W of PoE power.

At the recent BICSI Fall Conference and Exhibition, Christopher DiMinico, co-founder of SenTekse LLC and President/CTO of PHY-SI LLC, demonstrated a 1000m SPE link connecting and powering a surveillance camera. “There is a growing need for topologies that support larger spaces where we can connect devices without distribution designs centered around having a switch within 100 meters,” says DiMinico. “Cameras are an excellent use case for single-pair Ethernet. Due to compression techniques, the bulk of surveillance cameras only need 10 Mbits/sec and power levels of less than 25W consistent with 802.3af PoE, and SPE can support that.”

While DiMinico says the market is currently stuck in a “chicken-and-egg” situation with device manufacturers not yet motivated to integrate SPE interfaces because users are not yet demanding it, he was able to demonstrate the 1000m SPE camera link using a 10BASE-T1L switch, SPE components from Panduit, and a remote adapter. “The adapter addresses the lack of available SPE end devices on the market by converting 10BASE-T1L SPE and SPoE to regular 10BASE-T Ethernet and PoE,” says DiMinico. “Many people think SPE is very different, but when I ask them if they understand 10BASE-T and PoE and then tell them that SPE and SPoE are functionally equivalent, they get it.”

DiMinico is also working on integrating the adapter into a mounting plate for dome cameras, which he hopes to have available in early 2024. “With an adapter plate, SPE will be transparent from an integrator perspective. The next step is to make the adapter internal to the camera. Once integrators realize the benefits, the camera guys will integrate the technology,” he says.

10BASE-T1L SPE technology also supports up to 10 inline connectors in a 1000m channel and up to 5 inline connectors in a 400m channel, making it ideal as a replacement for traditional building systems that use a bus topology. DiMinico says SPE is especially suitable for connecting and powering IoT sensors that detect and monitor various conditions in many environments. “Think about data centers. You’ve got high-tech facilities servicing technologies like AI with many sensors for monitoring power, temperature, humidity, and ventilation and detecting leaks, smoke, and occupancy. Yet, data center operators must climb ladders to change batteries when they fail,” says DiMinico.

DiMinico points out that the IoT sensor market will reach well over $200 billion in 2024 with many use cases, which bodes well for SPE adoption. IoT sensors for monitoring and detecting everything from temperature, humidity, air and water quality, and occupancy to pressure, chemicals, and even soil conditions are increasingly deployed throughout smart buildings, factories, indoor agriculture facilities, arenas, and other facilities. A recent study by Panduit states that 30% of non-critical sensors will be down at any given time due to the magnitude and difficulty of keeping up with battery replacements. The report also says with battery replacement taking about 20 to 30 minutes, a one-million-square-foot facility with 10 sensors every 1,000 square feet is looking at replacing an average of 10 batteries per day, equating to 3 to 5 hours of labor. While connecting sensors with SPE eliminates the replacement costs associated with batteries, it’s also better for the environment with fewer batteries ending up in landfills.  SPE cables also use much less material than four-pair category cables, saving an average of 3.5 pounds per 100 meters.

For Devices Needing More Speed and Power

While SPE technology is ideal for low-speed, low-power devices, many high-speed, high-power devices like WiFi access points, DAS antennas, optical network terminals, and video displays can also fall outside a typical LAN topology. Fiber provides extended reach and high-speed data transmission for these devices, but the distance and 100W power limitation of Class 2 power can prevent using hybrid fiber-copper cables and require local AC power. Class 4 fault-managed power (FMP), defined in the 2023 National Electric Code (NEC) as Article 726, is well positioned to gain ground as a means to deliver more power over greater distances than Class 2 with the same level of shock and fire safety that enables installation via low-voltage technicians. And like Class 2, it can be combined with fiber into a single hybrid cable.

“We’re seeing hybrid fiber-copper cables delivering fault-managed power increasingly used for powering DAS and small cell systems, especially in environments where it is difficult to deploy AC power, such as transit metros,” says Ron Tellas, technology and applications manager for Belden. “These cables are also a great fit for powering and connecting passive optical network terminals and WiFi access points in hospitality and large spaces like warehouses and arenas.”

With regards to power only, Tellas sees FMP as a good option for LED lights that require more than 100W like those used in indoor agriculture, and he believes it has promise for powering active equipment like controllers and switches. “Fault-managed DC power can provide enough power for switches in the data center or for controllers and switches on the factory floor, eliminating the loss of converting from AC to DC, generating less heat, improving efficiency, and enabling power monitoring. It’s also safer, less apt to damage equipment, and can reside in the same pathway as data cables.”

DiMinico agrees. “Fault-managed power fits in as part of the power distribution network, where you could use it to feed power to switches that then distribute PoE and SPoE power to devices,” he says. The technology is already being used as a power distribution network in several facilities, but often with the need to convert it back into the AC power required by switches, reducing efficiency. However, Lantronix now offers a 24-port 10/100/1000-Mbits/sec PoE switch that delivers up to 90W per port and can be powered by VoltServer Digital Electricity, and others may eventually hit the market.

Despite the potential and the fact that FMP systems are already available, market adoption could lag behind standardized, interoperable SPE. Building codes outside North America do not yet recognize FMP, and the technology remains proprietary with varying capabilities. For example, VoltServer’s Digital Electricity system delivers 300W to 365m over an 18-AWG conductor pair, while Panduit’s FMP solution delivers 470W to 500m. UL listing is also required for complete systems, including receivers, transmitters, cables, and connectivity, which Tellas sees as a primary factor hindering adoption.

“With the system listing requirement, we have to certify systems whenever there is a new cable design or a different receiver-transmitter combo. The market needs interoperability so that these systems can be easily configured and certified to a standard using different equipment and cable vendors,” he says.

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