Understanding Power over Ethernet for video surveillance

The basics of PoE explained, plus a plea to the vendors to help IP video system designers

Manufacturers should label the device, print it on in large type and with bold colors, CLASS 1, CLASS 2, CLASS 3, CLASS 0, or whatever PoE Plus will hold as a classification. It's OK if your device actually only draws 3 watts during normal operation but for some reason is Class 0. Just tell your integrator channel partners and end users by labeling the device in the manner in which it was intended to be used. This lets system designers know the classification so that they might properly create a power plan and buy the correct devices. No one wants to be in the field trying to get a project done on time and only then realize that their switches don’t have enough power for the devices they’ve purchased.

While I am solidly standing on my PoE soapbox, let me also make a plea for PoE classification to be a priority on data sheets and marketing slicks. Some camera manufacturers make wonderful versions of these spec sheets. You’ll find photos, technical illustrations, cross reference charts, and more -- and often not a hint of PoE classification to be found anywhere. As someone who works with PoE, it sometimes seems as though PoE has become the crazy uncle that everyone has and who no one wants to invite to the party. Unfortunately for all of us, the crazy uncle could actually be the life of the party -- he makes it easy to entertain the guests and always has enough cash to pay for pizza -- but we haven't managed to take advantage of him yet!

PoE is supposed to make things easy, and between the standards bodies, the independent PoE offerings, the lack of classification usage, the errors in PoE chip usage within devices, and the propensity of some manufacturers to create Class 0 signatures in devices that draw minimal wattage, PoE's original purpose has been obfuscated in a way only rivaled by the current explanation of the financial bailout.

Why has it become so complex? Who knows! Unfortunately it has, and confusion has also shared a taxi with a lack of education on the road to PoE's widespread acceptance. People see a label on a device that says “802.af” or “IEEE Compliant” and then automatically assume that they can plug it into a PoE switch or midpsan and have it work with no problem. What makes the education problem worse is that often it does work with no problem, and this leads people to the assumption that PoE is really nothing more than Windows “plug and play” for power. Unlike Windows, however, there is no “blue screen of death” when using PoE. Instead there is a device that does not power on, or (in rare cases) a device that does power on followed by smoke, the smell of singed chip boards and fried capacitors, and then what was a very expensive security device becomes an equally expensive paperweight.

About the author: Scott Sereboff stands on his soapbox from the position of chief executive officer at Veracity USA, a provider of equipment for PoE, networking and video surveillance. Contact him via email to discuss this topic.