Power over Ethernet (PoE) is defined as any of several standardized or ad-hoc systems which pass electrical power along with data over ethernet cabling and enable a single cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to wireless access points, phone systems, internet protocol (IP) cameras, lightemitting diode (LED) lighting and other devices. PoE is an approach that’s becoming increasingly popular based on its ease of installation, flexibility and ability to deliver a range of low-voltage systems to a building efficiently and cost-effectively. Industry experts from Acuity Technology Group, Hubbell Lighting and Philips Lighting shared their insights with IMARK Now on the use and benefits of the PoE platform, an estimated $500 million annual market that research firm MarketsAndMarkets projects to double in size within the next five years. As a result, IMARK member distributors are wise to familiarize themselves with this emerging methodology.
PoE enables data and power to be conveyed over standard ethernet cables (CAT 5/5e/6/6A) at the same time, according to Rahul Shira, product marketing manager for controls, software and systems at Philips Lighting. “Due to their lower power requirements, LED luminaires can now be powered by standard PoE 802.3at (PoE+) and Cisco’s Universal PoE (UPoE),” Shira said. “With PoE+ and UPoE, every light fixture is directly networked, receiving control and power over a single network cable.”
Shira noted that PoE standards are defined within the IEEE 802.3. framework, which is a plus for facility professionals. “It’s beneficial for building owners to install infrastructure within their buildings that’s based on such standards because it enables the sharing of infrastructure with other facilities or sub-systems in a smart building,” he said. As a result, a PoE infrastructure is already in use globally for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones, network cameras and wireless access points.
The Guts and the Glory
“There are multiple elements of a PoE system,” explained Gilles Abrahamse, vice president of electronic components for Acuity Technology Group. “Power generation is done in a central location and from there, power and data is distributed to ethernet switches/hubs.
From the ethernet switches, power and data get further distributed to individual PoE devices such as a lighting fixture, sensor, camera, etc. Some electronics are needed in the lighting fixture—first, an ethernet communication circuit needs to be integrated, which negotiates between the ethernet connection and any controls/sensors that are integrated in the luminaire. Second, the power comes into the fixture as constant voltage; an LED fixture will most likely need to get converted to a constant current signal, requiring both ethernet control circuitry as well as a DC-DC LED driver in the fixture,” he said.
Shira agreed, noting that PoE architecture is essentially comprised of a piece of power sourcing equipment (e.g., a PoE switch) that supplies the necessary energy/power in accordance with Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standards to an end device like a PoE driver. “The PoE switch and corresponding ethernet cables typically replace highvoltage infrastructure like the electrical panels, piping and conduits, junction boxes, etc. required in the traditional approach for powering the lighting fixtures,” he said.
“The PoE driver is then integrated into the LED luminaire just like a 0-10V or Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) driver would be integrated in a traditional controls approach, and helps to assign a unique IP address to each luminaire,” Shira said. “The prominent difference here is that in a traditional approach, the 0-10V or DALI driver requires mains and dimming wires (typically five sets of wires) to be connected to the driver, but in case of PoE there’s just one ethernet cable connected to the PoE driver. In addition, every PoE-based LED luminaire is outfitted with smart sensors which continuously gather data pertaining to the space dynamics.”
Finally, a PoE-based system also requires an area controller that processes and stores the logical lighting zoning or grouping configurations, but the digital nature of the PoE switch helps to eliminate the need for any load regulators that were typically used to turn the entire circuit on/off or to dim it based on 0-10V, DALI or powerline protocols. At that point, “the dimming and switching functionality becomes managed by the PoE switch, which minimizes the total accessory components required in a PoE-based lighting system,” Shira said.
The benefits of this high-tech configuration to a facility?
“In commercial buildings, connected lighting systems have the capacity to collect, share and analyze data, which offers insights into new dimensions such as space optimization and the employee experience,” Shira said. “With technology like PoE, every fixture in a building is capable of producing better light and using less energy while providing smart insights designed to improve the comfort, utilization and attractiveness of a work space.”
Shira noted that PoE also delivers a new level of integration to a building’s numerous and often disparate electrical systems. “Typically, building management systems and lighting control networks reside in their own silos of the building environment; there may be integration points into the building management system, but there’s usually no convergence with the existing IP infrastructure and processes,” he said. Thanks to platforms like PoE, however, “the emergence of network-powered lighting converges these silos onto a single IP infrastructure and enables other building systems to communicate natively over IP as well.”
Scott Ziegenfus, manager of government and industry relations at Hubbell Lighting, agreed with all of these advantages. “Key benefits of PoE include cost reductions related to the installation of low-voltage network wires,” confirmed Ziegenfus, who added that the “plug-and-play” nature of PoE can save significantly on labor costs and, in many localities, the low-voltage TIA-568 category type wire (CAT5e or greater) doesn’t need to be run in conduit. “However,” he said, “the biggest payoff of PoE lies within the promise of interoperability with other systems. The majority of commercial buildings use an ethernet backbone of copper and fiber with ethernet switches, so the addition of a lighting system within that architecture presents the opportunity for a seamless connection to all systems on the corporate intranet, opening the door for the exchange of data between those systems.”
Risks and Rewards
Shira wholeheartedly concurred. “Post-installation, the PoE infrastructure can open up more avenues around the Internet of Things (IoT), which has been called ‘the next industrial revolution’ and is changing the way businesses, governments and consumers interact with the physical world,” he said. “Imagine a connected lighting system where LED luminaires are outfitted with intelligent devices such as locator beacons, sensors and transmitters built into the luminaires’ housing,” Shira said. “The granular information collected by these devices, when coupled with powerful software solutions, provides monitoring, visualization, historical analysis and reporting tools which allow facility managers to not only understand energy metrics, but to visualize occupancy and activity patterns in their spaces, which in turn leads to more effective space and resource management decisions.” Shira noted that these tools additionally deliver a personalized and humancentric lighting experience for employees and enable location-based services like wayfinding, a system which helps direct building occupants to their desired destination from their present location. “All of these new and smart features are directed towards employee well-being and space enhancement and can ultimately help boost satisfaction and productivity levels.”
Despite its many positives, however, our experts are quick to note that PoE’s unique properties make it more applicable to certain settings over others.
“PoE really makes sense if there’s a need for a high data rate connection to the fixture (e.g., if the fixture contains devices that require a high data rate backhaul to a cloud), in combination with the benefits from low-voltage power distribution,” Abrahamse said. “In addition, PoE is based on internet/ ethernet standards that are governed by IEEE and therefore benefits from any developments/improvements that are made in that area,” Abrahamse said. “At the same time, however, a light fixture becomes a device that’s directly connected to the internet on an open protocol, with subsequent risks.”
Abrahamse noted that efficiency and cost represent additional concerns. “Due to multiple power conversions and the need for multiple devices (like switches/routers) in a system, overall efficiency is typically lower and the cost can be higher,” he said. “Therefore, it’s important that the system is applied to those customers or facilities requiring high data rate and low power distribution. If the need is only low power distribution and/or lower bandwidth data connections, there are similar but lower-cost and higherefficiency solutions available.”
According to Shira, when costs are compared holistically between a traditional high-voltage system and a PoE system, the latter can deliver installation savings even with the inclusion of switches, though these savings are sensitive to labor rates and vary for each market. However, by using an industry standard approach, PoE technology can enable better connectivity with other systems in the space and allows for easier implementation of corporate information technology (IT) security policies than other low power distribution systems. This ultimately makes PoE technology more suitable for new construction and major renovation projects where the end goal is to make those buildings smarter, flexible and more efficient and isn’t ideal for customers who are looking for simple retrofit solutions.
“At this point in time, most of the projects that incorporate PoE involve commercial office spaces seeking to capitalize on energy savings, space optimization, wayfinding and locationbased services, but every day new potentials are being unlocked, whether around smart classroom applications or asset/patient tracking in health care facilities,” Shira said. “That’s the beauty of PoE technology, as it makes the overall infrastructure future-proof with new functionalities that can be activated quite easily with minimal incremental investments.”
In addition, noted Ziegenfus, “the layout of these lighting systems is ITbased and different when compared to traditional lighting architecture. This is likely foreign territory for many lighting specifiers, contractors and manufacturers and will require a broader discussion related to the necessary partnership with the IT department,” Ziegenfus said.
Shira agreed that the interactivity of PoE with a company’s IT system needs to be carefully considered. “By providing more access points to the lighting system, it certainly becomes imperative for a PoE-based lighting system to be adaptable or compliant with a building or company’s IT framework and policies,” Shira said.
As the PoE platform continues to gain momentum, these experts agree that some of the most notable changes will involve new requirements for contractors/ installers, who will have to adapt their processes and tools to conform to the new technology roadmap. “For instance,” said Shira, “being at the ‘cutting edge’ of technology means that there aren’t necessarily enough historical reference points to use as a baseline while bidding on projects, so electrical contractors will have to be innovative and rely on the standard low-voltage rates prevalent in their market as a starting point and then adapt with the technology adoption rate accordingly.” But the added effort and proactivity will be worth it, he said, “because as the entire world shifts towards IoT, installers who promote PoE may reap additional benefits, as the technology has the potential to open up positive new avenues and business models around other IoT devices and services.”
As for electrical distribution, “in some cases, distributors have a specialized network or IT teams, groups or divisions that are familiar with and comfortable selling equipment for traditional IT infrastructure, but this doesn’t necessarily include lighting,” Ziegenfus said. “A strong pipeline of PoE sales will require a cohesive effort between these individuals and those responsible for lighting sales. As such, we recommend that distributors get these introductions underway and establish familiarity within both camps; formal presentations, programs and networking opportunities should open up the lines of communication.”
For installers, “the role of the electrical contractor is to get themselves familiarized with the technology,” Abrahamse said. “It’s different from an installation standpoint—in a way it’s simpler due to the low-voltage aspect, but it’s somewhat disruptive and much closer to the installation of an IT network. I believe that PoE will have its place in certain applications, but will not be a technology that necessarily fits all.”
Ziegenfus agreed that those customers who are intrigued by the idea of data sharing between environmental systems and migrating that data for business applications will be the first to embrace the new methodology, but that opportunities in PoE will still abound for the right candidates. “PoE is in the early adoption stage and there’s absolutely positive growth potential,” he said.
- For more information on the Philips InterAct system with PoE technology, visit usa.lighting.philips.com/systems/ connected-lighting-for-offices or email Enterprise@philips.com.
- For more information on Hubbell Lighting’s PoE technology, visit hubbellbuildingautomation.com.
- For more information on Acuity Brands technologies and products, visit acuitybrands.com.