802.3af Specification Makes a Lot of Sense

The power over ethernet standard isn't an industry panacea, but it is a smart use of technology.

Power over ethernet, the 802.3af specification, is an impressive standard that will affect everything from IP telephony to wireless LANs. The 802.3af specification was finalized late this summer and is moving toward final adoption at years end. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and in this case, eWeek Labs believes the pudding will be tasty.

There are several reasons for our enthusiasm. Chief among them, Power over Ethernet provides a standard way for 802.11 and Bluetooth access points, VOIP (voice-over-IP) telephone handsets, and Internet cameras to receive power even when theyre away from a convenient AC power source.

The exception to this is VOIP handsets. These devices will almost certainly be placed near wall outlets, but Power over Ethernet allows the handsets to emulate the second-most-important feature of "real" telephones: the ability to function during a power outage.

The 802.11af Power over Ethernet standard means that wireless access points will no longer need to rely on proprietary products to provide energy when the access point is tacked up on a wall with no outlet nearby. At NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta recently, we saw a smart application of this standard in Symbol Technologies Inc.s Mobius Wireless System (see Pings & Packets, Page 42).

First, Symbol separated the radio frequency transceiver from the relatively simple brains of an 802.11a access point. Second, the company used the Power over Ethernet specification to create an easy-to-operate, simple-to-install, basically tamper-proof broadcast end point that doesnt require a separate power supply.

Based on our initial look at the Mobius system at N+I, this technology, which puts all the access point configuration and management in what is basically a wiring closet switch, is going to be a hot ticket when it ships in November.

Help From Above

In many ways, power over ethernet is a cost-effective way to overcome common building shortcomings, such as a lack of accessible power in the ceiling or in areas where security cameras are likely to be placed.

However, although it is easier to run an Ethernet cable than to negotiate for a new power run, IT managers must still use care when installing Power over Ethernet devices. For one thing, once a wireless transceiver is placed above a ceiling tile, it is too easy to forget about, making it a potential risk for unsecured access to the network.

With a little conscientious installation planning, this shortcoming can be avoided. IT staff should ensure that the Power over Ethernet devices have an SNMP agent on board. This will allow IT managers to more easily track the performance and presence of the devices. Presumably, it should also make them a little easier to track, too.

Power over Ethernet isnt rocket science, and it wont lift the entire tech industry from its doldrums. But it is a clever use of technology, one that IT managers should keep in mind as they consider the bread-and-butter issue of squeezing productivity out of their existing network infrastructures.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.