Modern healthcare is increasingly dependent on technology. From telemedicine to diagnostic scanners, from digital patient records to wearable health monitors, innovation promises better data, more accurate analysis and improved outcomes. But technology doesn’t always have to be new to make an impact. Some established technologies continue to deliver, by providing the reliable connectivity needed for other applications or becoming a source of innovation in themselves. PoE (power over ethernet) is one such example.PoE continues to go from strength to strength far beyond its initial humble applications in telephony. IEEE 802.3bt-2018 (PoE++, or 4PPoE) is now 5 years old, but its potential has yet to be properly explored. PoE’s inherent flexibility, practicality and safety make it ideally positioned to tackle some of the key concerns of healthcare facilities.
PoE lighting is certainly not a new technology, but it’s worth restating some numbers: according to the ACEEE, while LED retrofits can achieve 30% energy savings, implementing advanced lighting controls can offer an additional 44% energy savings with a payback of less than five years. Fully integrated smart lighting systems could achieve up to 90% energy savings. Those are not insignificant numbers.
LEDs are naturally DC powered, so while they can be run from AC mains power, the need for conversion makes this inefficient.
Smart lighting systems can adjust lights based on a preset schedule, or based on occupancy. Typical movement-based occupancy sensors can be used in certain areas, such as administrative offices or meeting rooms. Other types of occupancy sensors, such as bed pressure pads, can be used for rooms like wards.
As with lights, many devices – both medical and otherwise – are not natively AC powered and don’t need the amount of power provided by a mains connection. 44PoE can deliver more than 91W, enough to power motors, patient entertainment systems or staff laptops. The universality of a USB connection reduces the need for multiple cable or adapter types. And PoE is safer than line voltage, especially if temporary connections result in trailing cables.
Environments, especially workplaces, are increasingly monitored by IoT connected devices that report on conditions like lighting, heating and air quality. With minimal power and low data requirements, sensors are an example of a device ideally powered by PoE. Wirelessly connected, self-powered sensors can also easily be integrated into the same network.
A common pain point for facilities managers in all sectors is having to juggle multiple systems that each control or monitor a different aspect of the facility, sometimes with overlapping functionality. The ability to pull data from multiple sources, and in turn push instructions to multiple systems, is of particular benefit to those managing large, complex facilities like hospitals or campuses.
The purpose of IP convergence is to enable multiple types of system to communicate natively on the same platform. PoE-based smart building platforms can control a range of functions directly or, via API, connect to almost any other system. Bringing together multiple data sources into a single pane of glass view has the potential to enable teams in a variety of functions to easily collate and compare data – not just facilities management. Areas demonstrating high footfall can be earmarked for more frequent cleaning, rooms with lower air quality can be proactively investigated, and underutilized rooms can be repurposed.
As an IoT solution, PoE is substantially more secure and more reliable than those based on wireless connectivity, but wireless elements can be easily integrated by connecting via WiFi, RFID or Bluetooth. Through PoE injectors, existing Ethernet based infrastructure can be adapted or repurposed to carry power.
PoE is a relatively straightforward technology for facilities and IT teams to manage, as the majority will already have experience of regular (unpowered) Ethernet. The ability for in-house teams to make changes and return spaces to active use with minimal delay is hugely beneficial for hospitals and care settings, which often struggle to find enough beds for patients.
Simple IP cameras were an early application for PoE. Higher power PoE enables more sophisticated move-pan-tilt cameras to be connected and powered without the complications or restrictions of running mains power.
There are plenty of benefits from enabling better collaboration between facilities and security teams. Occupancy data combined with security logs can be used for intruder detection in sensitive areas like the data center or pharmacies. If patients are prone to wandering, they can be given wearable devices that can be located via PoE-powered BlueTooth receivers. Or, more simply, staff can be proactively notified if there are visitors still lingering after visiting hours.
Where lighting is PoE connected, it too can become a part of the security and facilities systems. The color or brightness of existing light fittings can be used to indicate different scenarios and or emergency situations, or guide people toward the nearest emergency exit. This reduces the need for standalone emergency lighting hardware.
PoE has the benefit of being able to utilize much of the hardware of unpowered Ethernet. There is a wide variety of products available off-the-shelf to cater for specific environments or applications. For example: perhaps there is a need to cable a connection to a security camera or antennae outside, open to the elements; perhaps there is a requirement for an outlet in an operating theatre that is frequently hosed down. Patch cords and connectors are available in a wide range of IP ratings and sheath materials.
EMI is a particularly critical consideration in healthcare settings, as lives can depend on the integrity of data. Some types of diagnostic equipment generate very large amounts of interference, which would necessitate shielding in both the cables connecting to the equipment itself and any running in the vicinity. Shielding also has the benefit of helping dissipate heat, so may be required for cables carrying higher amounts of power or running through hot areas.
When it comes to the ability of a cable to carry power, the cable thickness (AWG) is the critical parameter, not its Category: a 23AWG Cat5e will carry power no better or worse than a 23AWG Cat6A. Low diameter (high AWG) cables may be useful in tight spaces such as data centers and telecoms rooms, but additional design considerations will apply to ensure performance is not lost.
Many PoE devices, such as smart building sensors, are very low power and also have minimal data requirements. In the event that a smart building system is installed as a standalone network, Cat6 may be more than sufficient. However part of the power of PoE comes from IP convergence, and there are benefits for the PoE network to be integrated with the general data network. In these cases structured cabling standards will apply, which on the whole mandate C6A. As well as supporting higher data requirements, C6A networks offer performance headroom to accommodate future technologies.
There are separate Standards which look at the unique requirements of healthcare facilities: ANSI/TIA-1179-A. Some of the key differences include the size of the TR and the number of outlets required per work area.
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