The life cycle of power over Ethernet (POE) technology may prove to be remarkably similar to wireless technology.

It was not long ago that telecommunications contractors responded dismissively when asked if they expected wireless technology to be a threat to their cabling businesses. A typical response, often delivered with a roll of the eyes, was something to the effect of, “Even wireless access points need cable, don’t they?”

But within a few years, that cavalier attitude gave way to contractors paying serious attention to the rise of wireless technology. The fact was that the technology was growing at a remarkable rate, and, yes, it was making a noticeable dent in the cabling industry.

Many construction projects simply did not include as many telecommunications jacks to each work area as they might have a few years prior. Instead of individual workstations getting, say, four jacks, the advent of wireless meant that they would only get two or one or, in some places, none. Meeting and conference room walls were no longer being dotted with jacks; in contrast, those rooms’ ceilings were being designed with wireless access points (WAPs) while the walls had few, if any, jacks.

If telecommunications contractors weren’t at least taking notice, they should have been.

At the same time, something else was happening. Even though some walls were getting fewer jacks, many areas of new buildings began to get cables that in years past would never have received them. That was because wireless technology made it cost-effective to provide an overall bigger telecommunications footprint than ever before. Maintenance and storage areas, parks and parking lots, lunch rooms and hallways all began to be cabled for WAPs. Suddenly, wireless technology didn’t look like such a bad thing after all.

History repeats

The same pattern of adoption may prove true for PoE. Most industry experts agree that PoE has been somewhat of a sleeper technology; in other words, it’s something about which electrical contractors could have been relatively dismissive.

However, PoE has steadily increased each year since its 2003 introduction. With the advent of PoE+ (scheduled to be released in 2009), it is expected to continue to have a growing presence in the marketplace. There will likely be electrical contractors who see that as less-than-welcome news, every time a future building owner puts in a PoE/PoE+ device instead of a traditional AC line-powered device, that is one less dedicated electrical cable to install. Is this starting to sound familiar yet?

But PoE/PoE+ may leave electrical contractors better off than before, just like wireless technology left telecommunications contractors better off. Increased deployment of PoE/PoE+ may result in comparatively fewer electrical cables, but it may also result in more overall business for electrical contractors’ telecommunications divisions.

Those in PoE/PoE+ R&D and manufacturing boldly proclaim that we are still in the early stages of this technology, and that it likely will result in many more installed devices, such as security cameras, electronic door access devices and intelligent heating/lighting controls.

Get on the bus

“Any electrical contractors that say, ‘PoE means less work for us’ or ‘PoE encroaches on our core business’ really need to get on the bus,” said Mike Pula, technical marketing manager, Panduit. “They need to understand the reasons why power over Ethernet installations are valuable for their customers who are building owners and facility managers. PoE makes a lot of sense for the customer.”

PoE devices are relatively inexpensive to install compared to devices that require dedicated electrical outlets and are aesthetically appealing because they do not require visible “wall-wart” transformers that plug into outlets, he said. Furthermore, new PoE+ devices such as thin computing clients and pan/tilt/zoom cameras soon will emerge. Existing devices will offer better range and coverage, as is the case with new wireless access points.

“With PoE,” Pula said, “organizations are deploying physical infrastructure elements that help align and optimize key systems, such as power, computing and communications. Electrical contractors who understand these benefits can easily say to their customers, ‘You really need the improved performance and reduced CapEx and OpEx costs that these low-voltage devices can offer.’”

Pula suggests electrical contractors take a more proactive stance.

“Don’t just get on the bus, but become the driver,” he said. “Add yourself to the value chain.”

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan., specializing in technical and business writing. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.