Over the last few years, concepts such as the Internet of Things and edge computing - where processing operations take place on devices at the network perimeter rather than in core servers - have rapidly changed many business' networking landscapes.
Many organisations are demanding more power, more bandwidth and faster connectivity to ensure that all devices within their network are able to communicate and operate effectively, but this is putting significant pressure on legacy networks, resulting in the need for new technologies and standards to address these evolving requirements.
One such standard that is expected to be released in the near future is the IEEE 802.3bt specification, which focuses on Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology and aims to improve the costs and efficiency of these devices.
PoE has become a key concern for many networks in recent years, allowing them to deliver both power and data connections through a single cable, thereby greatly simplifying the network infrastructure. However, development of IoT and other devices has now reached a point where existing solutions cannot deliver the necessary power or speed using previous standards.
The IEEE's current PoE standard, 802.3at, has been around since 2009 and delivers around 25.5 watts. While this is sufficient for devices such as wireless access points and some security cameras, there is much equipment that would benefit from higher-power capabilities. Therefore, several vendors have introduced their own proprietary standards, such as Universal PoE, High PoE and PoE++ to address these needs.
Although these deliver more power than 802.3at, they are not interoperable, which has prevented vendors from developing new devices that can be installed on any network without worrying that it will be incompatible with existing equipment.
The forthcoming 802.3bt standard will therefore seek to address this by replacing these proprietary standards with a new, unified solution. Like the vendor-specific offerings, it will use all four wire pairs in order to supply enough power to support devices such as LED lighting, kiosks and POS terminals without the need for additional AC connections, thereby improving the amount of power that can be drawn.
While existing devices built to vendor-specific standards will not be compatible with 803.3bt, it was noted by TechTarget that "it is anticipated that vendors using the proprietary standards will upgrade device software to allow interoperability with devices built to the new standard." However, in some cases, hardware limitations may prevent this.
Apart from offering a standardised environment for the deployment of future PoE devices, the IEEE's new standard is expected to help reduce the costs of running such systems, in part by offering better control over power management.
The new standard will define a way to supply two different power levels at the same time, known as dual signal. This is expected to be particularly useful in scenarios such as workstations where the processor needs both data and power, while the monitor requires a different power level, but does not need access to the signal.
It will also greatly reduce the amount of power required when a device is not in use. Currently, every PoE device must still draw power periodically to confirm it is still connected, even when it is switched off. Earlier standards require than it draw 10ma of power for 20 per cent of the time, while 802.3bt reduces this to just 1.875 per cent of the time. This will make a major difference for applications such as LED lighting, where a large number of devices will be turned off at night and on weekends.