By one measure, it's good news, bad news for Power over Ethernet

I'm urging those who have a stake in PoE acceptance to go on an all-out educational campaign to answer that one nagging question that must be in the minds of thousands: How?

Sep 1st, 2003

Once again, this space will serve to report and then dissect information garnered from this magazine's Web-enabled polling mechanism. In late July and early August, the question posed on our Web site was: "Now that the IEEE has ratified specifications for Power over Ethernet (PoE), will you use your data cables for that purpose?"

Respondents had a few options:

  • Yes, I can gain benefits from the technology;
  • No, because I have no use for the technology;
  • No, because I am concerned about the potential impact on my data cabling's performance.

Nearly two-thirds of those who responded said "yes," they will use their data cables to power network devices. I view that number as good news, not just for the vendors who are eager to sell PoE-enabling products into the marketplace, but also for consumers who stand to gain some kind of network efficiency as a result of this now-formally approved technology.

The bad news comes when we look at the percentages among those not planning to use PoE. Of those who said "no," only 16% said they will bypass PoE because they have no use for the technology. Some characteristics of PoE, perhaps most notably the fact that it requires four twisted-copper pairs, will prevent its deployment in some networks.

But what jumps out at me is the whopping 84% of those saying "no" who indicated that worries over the potential impact on their cabling system performance make PoE look unappetizing. I read two things into those numbers. First, PoE is being viewed with some degree of skepticism, and many users will observe what kind of success others have with it before considering it themselves. And second, many networks today include cabling systems that can be placed in the non-descript category of "marginal."

To me, "marginal" means:

"Well, we got the certification report from our contractor when it was installed, so I know the cabling system met the specs four years ago. But a lot has happened since then. We have moved a lot of employees, consolidated a few departments, yadda yadda yadda. And we never recertified the system because when we plugged everybody back in, all the connections still worked. But I don't know if it would meet the specs if we retested it today."

This scenario, or something like it, is a real issue facing real end users today. It is beyond the control of anyone trying to introduce PoE technology to the market.

What is within the control of PoE vendors, at least to some extent, is the perception of PoE by potential users of the technology. The first time I heard a report from IEEE members about PoE coming down the pipeline, one of the questions from the audience summed up exactly what I had been thinking the entire time: "For years, you have been telling us we need to separate our data cables from power sources. Now you're telling us we can run power and data under the same sheath?! How is that going to work?"

I'm not saying it can't work. I'm just urging those who have a stake in PoE acceptance to go on an all-out educational campaign to answer that one nagging question that must be in the minds of thousands: How?

The article by Amir Lehr in this month's issue can be a good beginning to that campaign. But it should not be the end. While a certain chunk of users are probably planning ways to capitalize on this new capability, many others—and not just those from the "Show Me" state of Missouri—probably are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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