Date:14/05/2007 URL:
In tune with change

Vinson Kurian

Infomart says it is keeping pace with moves towards a new standard for Power over Ethernet technology.

Devesh R. Agarwal

Power Over Ethernet (PoE) is a technology for wired Ethernet, the most widely installed local area network technology in use today. PoE allows the electrical power required by Ethernet end devices to be carried by data cables along with the data, rather than by separate power cord. It thus helps minimise the number of wires used to install the network, resulting in lower cost, less downtime, easier maintenance and greater installation flexibility.

In September 2005, the Institute for Electronics and Electric Engineers (IEEE), the international standards-setting body, agreed to begin reviewing new PoE specifications in order to enhance current PoE guidelines from IEEE802.3af of 12.95 watts into a next-generation standard IEEE 802.3at, commonly referred to as PoE Plus.

The goal for the new standard, expected to be ratified in 2008, is to increase maximum power rating to at least 30 watts to provide greater power for evolving applications such as motorised network cameras supporting pan-tilt-zoom IP (Internet protocol) telephony videophones; RFID (radio frequency identification) readers and access-control systems; point-of-sale and information kiosks; and eventually laptops or even palmtop computers.

A Bangalore-based PoE player, Infomart (India), has announced the release of its `PoweredEthernet' series of active PoE `splitters,' which support output loads as high as 40 watts. Infomart is a pioneer in higher output, non-proprietary PoE solutions. Founded in 1993, the company has expanded its customer base to over 100 customers. It has presence in Singapore and the US, and is looking for partnerships in various geographic areas.

Devesh R. Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Infomart, claims that the PES-40 series active `splitters' are the first to offer globally a non-proprietary, single-choice solution to power both low and high-power Ethernet devices. "Our PES-40 `splitters' deliver high efficiency and cost effectiveness, across a wide band of output load, from 5 watts to 40 watts, and will integrate well with existing IEEE 802.3af-compliant power supplies as well as next generation higher power PoE solutions emerging today," he says. Excerpts from a wide-ranging chat with eWorld:

Does introduction of the POE-40 series mean that you are ready for the futuristic IEEE 802.3at standard?

The IEEE802.3at is still under formation. It is expected to be finalised by late 2007, and ratified and formally adopted by 2008. Infomart actively participates in the sub-groups of the IEEE task force that deals with the `powered device' and we are keeping abreast of all the proposals in terms of technology. We are ready for the IEEE 802.3at standard as it stands today.

When the current standard was adopted, a very conservative figure of 350mA was set. Research for the new standard has shown that 720mA of current is acceptable. There are power supply equipment that offer a higher power than 350mA, using the 802.3af signature and protection protocol. Until the PES-40 series `splitters', there has been no non-proprietary power extraction solution to take advantage of the new power supply solutions.

This way, the PES-40 `splitters' offer the advantage of the power limits of the new 802.3at standard with the security and inter-operability of the 802.3af standard.

How would you deal with a situation where you would have to wait, if at all, for new silicon from IC vendors to be modified to be able to meet the standard?

Infomart has deliberately designed the PES-40 `splitters' to be highly flexible and scalable. The PES-40 design does not depend on proprietary silicon, which enables us to rapidly offer designs that are current.

One of the reasons we have chosen the `hybrid' model i.e. the current IEEE 802.3af standard, but with higher current ratings, is to provide customers with a splitter that will work with all IEEE 802.3af compliant power supplies. This includes the existing lower power (12.95 watts) solutions, as well as the new higher power (30 watts and above) solutions.

At this stage, the IEEE 802.3at standard is still in a draft phase. There will be changes, before it is finally adopted. Our strategy is to keep the design dynamic and we will keep abreast of the standards as and when they are adopted.

Is Infomart by itself working to promote the IEEE 802.3at standard? Do you feel the need to work with the hardware manufacturers to ensure compliance by year 2008?

Power over Ethernet is a transparent technology. It is designed to integrate into existing networks, or designed into new networks. PoE does not change the network protocol itself, it only adds power to it. If a user wants to change his switch infrastructure, he has the option of choosing a PoE-enabled `end span.' However, most customers prefer the mid-span method due to lower cost and higher flexibility.

When adopted, the IEEE 802.3at standard will apply to all PoE equipment manufacturers, whether power supply or powered device.

Infomart is raising awareness levels with various customers, not just of the new 802.3at standard, but also about the whole PoE concept itself, and its resultant benefits.

What does the rollout of the standard mean for India, given the fact that the retail, supply chain and logistics sectors are witnessing a boom?

It is important to realise that PoE is an enabling technology, i.e. means to an end, and not the end itself. The utilisation of PoE is only limited by imagination.

While the 802.3at standard will provide for much higher power levels and open up many segments, the PES-40 `splitters' enable users to enjoy the benefits of research, and implement high power today, not wait for another one year.

The final goal for the new standard is 60 watts. At that power level, about 90 per cent of Ethernet equipment will be covered, including notebooks, thin clients, etc. The Infomart PES-40 splitter enables about 60 per cent of Ethernet equipment today.

Besides retail and supply chain, one other major sector is video surveillance and security. Bangalore is implementing BTRAC traffic control and various security-sensitive installations, such as airports and IT hubs, are contemplating implementation of facial recognition systems. All these systems work much better, and cost less, with IP digital video cameras, instead of the analogue video cameras.

The IP digital high-resolution cameras' signals can be directly integrated into a centralised security system and control room. These cameras require about 22 watts of power. Till now, there was no way to power these cameras via the Ethernet cable, hence cabling costs were high. With the PES-40 splitter, this is possible, and at price savings of about 80 per cent, when compared to taking separate electrical and data cabling to the camera.

The PES-40 splitter is a `wide band' splitter. It is designed to be flexible in its usage and it operates under the current 802.3af standard, with the exception of the higher power. It can be used from 5 watt to 36-watt power requirement.

This wide band makes our splitter ideal for the upcoming WiMAX rollout as well. We can power up a WiMAX infrastructure tower. It means a lot to infrastructure providers, in terms of safety and reliability, not to have 230 volts, 20 meters up in the air.

How does the new standard propose to deal with the heat generation in the cabling system?

There is a separate cabling sub-group within the IEEE 802.3at task force. It has done extensive research into this subject and its findings are playing a major role in the formation of the new standard, especially with regard to the current capacity that determines the power.

The standard will be able to utilise existing cabling infrastructure. I think the standard will call for Cat 5e and greater cabling which is predominant in most networks today.

As with any power supply, heat is a major by-product. Infomart has addressed this issue by achieving extremely high levels of efficiency in its PES-40 `splitters'.

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