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Black Box Explains...Power over Ethernet (PoE).

What is PoE?
The seemingly universal network connection, twisted-pair Ethernet cable, has another role to play, providing electrical power to low-wattage electrical devices. Power over Ethernet (PoE) was ratified by the... more/see it nowInstitute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in June 2000 as the 802.3af-2003 standard. It defines the specifications for low-level power delivery—roughly 13 watts at 48 VDC—over twisted-pair Ethernet cable to PoE-enabled devices such as IP telephones, wireless access points, Web cameras, and audio speakers.

Recently, the basic 802.3af standard was joined by the IEEE 802.3at PoE standard (also called PoE+ or PoE plus), ratified on September 11, 2009, which supplies up to 25 watts to larger, more power-hungry devices. 802.3at is backwards compatible with 802.3af.

How does PoE work?
The way it works is simple. Ethernet cable that meets CAT5 (or better) standards consists of four twisted pairs of cable, and PoE sends power over these pairs to PoE-enabled devices. In one method, two wire pairs are used to transmit data, and the remaining two pairs are used for power. In the other method, power and data are sent over the same pair.

When the same pair is used for both power and data, the power and data transmissions don’t interfere with each other. Because electricity and data function at opposite ends of the frequency spectrum, they can travel over the same cable. Electricity has a low frequency of 60 Hz or less, and data transmissions have frequencies that can range from 10 million to 100 million Hz.

Basic structure.
There are two types of devices involved in PoE configurations: Power Sourcing Equipment (PSE) and Powered Devices (PD).

PSEs, which include end-span and mid-span devices, provide power to PDs over the Ethernet cable. An end-span device is often a PoE-enabled network switch that’s designed to supply power directly to the cable from each port. The setup would look something like this:

End-span device → Ethernet with power

A mid-span device is inserted between a non-PoE device and the network, and it supplies power from that juncture. Here is a rough schematic of that setup:

Non-PoE switch → Ethernet without PoE → Mid-span device → Ethernet with power

Power injectors, a third type of PSE, supply power to a specific point on the network while the other network segments remain without power.

PDs are pieces of equipment like surveillance cameras, sensors, wireless access points, and any other devices that operate on PoE.

PoE applications and benefits.
• Use one set of twisted-pair wires for both data and low-wattage appliances.
• In addition to the applications noted above, PoE also works well for video surveillance, building management, retail video kiosks, smart signs, vending machines, and retail point-of-information systems.
• Save money by eliminating the need to run electrical wiring.
• Easily move an appliance with minimal disruption.
• If your LAN is protected from power failure by a UPS, the PoE devices connected to your LAN are also protected from power failure.
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Black Box Explains...SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers.

SFP, SFP+, and XFP are all terms for a type of transceiver that plugs into a special port on a switch or other network device to convert the port to... more/see it nowa copper or fiber interface. These compact transceivers replace the older, bulkier GBIC interface. Although these devices are available in copper, their most common use is to add fiber ports. Fiber options include multimode and single-mode fiber in a variety of wavelengths covering distances of up to 120 kilometers (about 75 miles), as well as WDM fiber, which uses two separate wavelengths to both send and receive data on a single fiber strand.

SFPs support speeds up to 4.25 Gbps and are generally used for Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet applications. The expanded SFP standard, SFP+, supports speeds of 10 Gbps or higher over fiber. XFP is a separate standard that also supports 10-Gbps speeds. The primary difference between SFP+ and the slightly older XFP standard is that SFP+ moves the chip for clock and data recovery into a line card on the host device. This makes an SFP+ smaller than an XFP, enabling greater port density.

Because all these compact transcievers are hot-swappable, there’s no need to shut down a switch to swap out a module—it’s easy to change interfaces on the fly for upgrades and maintenance.

Another characteristic shared by this group of transcievers is that they’re OSI Layer 1 devices—they’re transparent to data and do not examine or alter data in any way. Although they’re primarily used with Ethernet, they’re also compatible with uncommon or legacy standards such as Fibre Channel, ATM, SONET, or Token Ring.

Formats for SFP, SFP+, and XFP transceivers have been standardized by multisource agreements (MSAs) between manufacturers, so physical dimensions, connectors, and signaling are consistent and interchangeable. Be aware though that some major manufacturers, notably Cisco, sell network devices with slots that lock out transceivers from other vendors. collapse


The difference between unmanaged, managed, and Web-smart switches

With regard to management options, the three primary classes of switches are unmanaged, managed, and Web smart. Which you choose depends largely on the size of your network and how... more/see it nowmuch control you need over that network.

Unmanaged switches are basic plug-and-play switches with no remote configuration, management, or monitoring options, although many can be locally monitored and configured via LED indicators and DIP switches. These inexpensive switches are typically used in small networks or to add temporary workgroups to larger networks.

Managed switches support Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) via embedded agents and have a command line interface (CLI) that can be accessed via serial console, Telnet, and Secure Shell. These switches can often be configured and managed as groups. More recent managed switches may also support a Web interface for management through a Web browser.

These high-end switches enable network managers to remotely access a wide range of capabilities including:

  • SNMP monitoring.
  • Enabling and disabling individual ports or port Auto MDI/MDI-X.
  • Port bandwidth and duplex control.
  • IP address management.
  • MAC address filtering.
  • Spanning Tree.
  • Port mirroring to monitor network traffic.
  • Prioritization of ports for quality of service (QoS).
  • VLAN settings.
  • 802.1X network access control.
  • IGMP snooping.
  • Link aggregation or trunking.

  • Managed switches, with their extensive management capabilities, are at home in large enterprise networks where network administrators need to monitor and control a large number of network devices. Managed switches support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.

    Web-smart switches—sometimes called smart switches or Web-managed switches—have become a popular option for mid-sized networks that require management. They offer access to switch management features such as port monitoring, link aggregation, and VPN through a simple Web interface via an embedded Web browser. What these switches generally do not have is SNMP management capabilities or a CLI. Web-smart switches must usually be managed individually rather than in groups.

    Although the management features found in a Web-smart switch are less extensive than those found in a fully managed switch, these switches are becoming smarter with many now offering many of the features of a fully managed switch. Like managed switches, they also support redundancy protocols for increased network availability.

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    Black Box Explains...Fiber.


    Fiber versus copper.

    When planning a new or upgraded cabling infrastructure, you have two basic choices: fiber or copper. Both offer superior data transmission. The decision on which one... more/see it nowto use may be difficult. It will often depend on your current network, your future networking needs, and your particular application, including bandwidth, distances, environment, cost, and more. In some cases, copper may be a better choice; in other situations, fiber offers advantages.


    Although copper cable is currently more popular and much more predominant in structured cabling systems and networks, fiber is quickly gaining fans.


    Fiber optic cable is becoming one of the fastest-growing transmission mediums for both new cabling installations and upgrades, including backbone, horizontal, and even desktop applications. Fiber optic cable is favored for applications that need high bandwidth, long distances, and complete immunity to electrical interference. It’s ideal for high data-rate systems such as Gigabit Ethernet, FDDI, multimedia, ATM, SONET, Fibre Channel, or any other network that requires the transfer of large, bandwidth-consuming data files, particularly over long distances. A common application for fiber optic cable is as a network backbone, where huge amounts of data are transmitted. To help you decide if fiber is right for your new network or if you want to migrate to fiber, take a look at the following:



    The advantages of fiber.

    Greater bandwidth-Because fiber provides far greater bandwidth than copper and has proven performance at rates up to 10 Gbps, it gives network designers future-proofing capabilities as network speeds and requirements increase. Also, fiber optic cable can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper wire. That’s why the telephone networks use fiber, and many CATV companies are converting to fiber.


    Low attenuation and greater distance-Because the fiber optic signal is made of light, very little signal loss occurs during transmission so data can move at higher speeds and greater distances. Fiber does not have the 100-meter (304.8-ft.) distance limitation of unshielded twisted-pair copper (without a booster). Fiber distances can range from 300 meters to 40 kilometers, depending on the style of cable, wavelength, and network. (Fiber distances are typically measured in metric units.) Because fiber signals need less boosting than copper ones do, the cable performs better.


    Fiber networks also enable you to put all your electronics and hardware in one central location, instead of having wiring closets with equipment throughout the building.


    Security-Your data is safe with fiber cable. It does not radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.


    Immunity and reliability-Fiber provides extremely reliable data transmission. It’s completely immune to many environmental factors that affect copper cable. The fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, so no electric current can flow through. It is immune to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. You can run fiber cable next to industrial equipment without worry. Fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper is and can be submerged in water.


    Design-Fiber is lightweight, thin, and more durable than copper cable. And, contrary to what you might think, fiber optic cable has pulling specifications that are up to ten times greater than copper cable’s. Its small size makes it easier to handle, and it takes up much less space in cabling ducts. Although fiber is still more difficult to terminate than copper is, advancements in connectors are making temination easier. In addition, fiber is actually easier to test than copper cable.


    Migration-The proliferation and lower costs of media converters are making copper to fiber migration much easier. The converters provide seamless links and enable the use of existing hardware. Fiber can be incorporated into networks in planned upgrades.


    Standards-New TIA/EIA standards are bringing fiber closer to the desktop. TIA/EIA-785, ratified in 2001, provides a cost-effective migration path from 10-Mbps Ethernet to 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet over fiber (100BASE-SX). A recent addendum to the standard eliminates limitations in transceiver designs. In addition, in June 2002, the IEEE approved a 10-Gigabit Ethernet standard.


    Costs-The cost for fiber cable, components, and hardware is steadily decreasing. Installation costs for fiber are higher than copper because of the skill needed for terminations. Overall, fiber is more expensive than copper in the short run, but it may actually be less expensive in the long run. Fiber typically costs less to maintain, has much less downtime, and requires less networking hardware. And fiber eliminates the need to recable for higher network performance.


    Multimode or single-mode, duplex or simplex?

    Multimode-Multimode fiber optic cable can be used for most general fiber applications. Use multimode fiber for bringing fiber to the desktop, for adding segments to your existing network, or in smaller applications such as alarm systems. Multimode cable comes with two different core sizes: 50 micron or 62.5 micron.


    Single-mode-Single-mode is used over distances longer than a few miles. Telcos use it for connections between switching offices. Single-mode cable features an 8.5-micron glass core.


    Duplex-Use duplex multimode or single-mode fiber optic cable for applications that require simultaneous, bidirectional data transfer. Workstations, fiber switches and servers, fiber modems, and similar hardware require duplex cable. Duplex is available in single- and multimode.


    Simplex-Because simplex fiber optic cable consists of only one fiber link, you should use it for applications that only require one-way data transfer. For instance, an interstate trucking scale that sends the weight of the truck to a monitoring station or an oil line monitor that sends data about oil flow to a central location. Simplex fiber comes in single- and multimode types.


    50- vs. 62.5-micron cable.

    Although 50-micron fiber cable features a smaller core, which is the light-carrying portion of the fiber, both 62.5- and 50-micron cable feature the same glass cladding diameter of 125 microns. You can use both in the same types of networks, although 50-micron cable is recommended for premise applications: backbone, horizontal, and intrabuilding connections, and should be considered especially for any new construction and installations. And both can use either LED or laser light sources.


    The big difference between 50-micron and 62.5-micron cable is in bandwidth-50-micron cable features three times the bandwidth of standard 62.5-micron cable, particularly at 850 nm. The 850-nm wavelength is becoming more important as lasers are being used more frequently as a light source.


    Other differences are distance and speed. 50-micron cable provides longer link lengths and/or higher speeds in the 850-nm wavelength. See the table below.




    The ferrules: ceramic or composite?

    As a general rule, use ceramic ferrules for critical network connections such as backbone cables or for connections that will be changed frequently, like those in wiring closets. Ceramic ferrules are more precisely molded and fit closer to the fiber, which gives the fiber optic cables a lower optical loss.


    Use composite ferrules for connections that are less critical to the network’s overall operation and less frequently changed. Like their ceramic counterparts, composite ferrules are characterized by low loss, good quality, and a long life. However, they are not as precisely molded and slightly easier to damage, so they aren’t as well-suited for critical connections.


    Testing and certifying fiber optic cable.

    If you’re accustomed to certifying copper cable, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to certify fiber optic cable because it’s immune to electrical interference. You only need to check a few measurements.

    Attenuation (or decibel loss)-Measured in decibels/kilometer (dB/km), this is the decrease of signal strength as it travels through the fiber cable. Generally, attenuation problems are more common on multimode fiber optic cables.

    Return loss-This is the amount of light reflected from the far end of the cable back to the source. The lower the number, the better. For example, a reading of -60 decibels is better than -20 decibels. Like attenuation, return loss is usually greater with multimode cable.

    Graded refractive index-This measures how the light is sent down the fiber. This is commonly measured at wavelengths of 850 and 1300 nanometers. Compared to other operating frequencies, these two ranges yield the lowest intrinsic power loss. (NOTE: This is valid for multimode fiber only.)

    Propagation delay-This is the time it takes a signal to travel from one point to another over a transmission channel.

    Optical time-domain reflectometry (OTDR)-This enables you to isolate cable faults by transmitting high-frequency pulses onto a cable and examining their reflections along the cable. With OTDR, you can also determine the length of a fiber optic cable because the OTDR value includes the distance the optic signal travels.


    There are many fiber optic testers on the market today. Basic fiber optic testers function by shining a light down one end of the cable. At the other end, there’s a receiver calibrated to the strength of the light source. With this test, you can measure how much light is going to the other end of the cable. Generally, these testers give you the results in dB lost, which you then compare to the loss budget. If the measured loss is less than the number calculated by your loss budget, your installation is good.


    Newer fiber optic testers have a broad range of capabilities. They can test both 850- and 1300-nanometer signals at the same time and can even check your cable for compliance with specific standards.


    Fiber precautions.

    A few properties particular to fiber optic cable can cause problems if you aren’t careful during installation.

    Intrinsic power loss-As the optic signal travels through the fiber core, the signal inevitably loses some speed through absorption, reflection, and scattering. This problem is easy to manage by making sure your splices are good and your connections are clean.

    Microbending-Microbends are minute deviations in fiber caused by excessive bends, pinches, and kinks. Using cable with reinforcing fibers and other special manufacturing techniques minimizes this problem.

    Connector loss-Connector loss occurs when two fiber segments are misaligned. This problem is commonly caused by poor splicing. Scratches and dirt introduced during the splicing process can also cause connector loss.

    Coupling loss-Similar to connector loss, coupling loss results in reduced signal power and is from poorly terminated connector couplings.


    Remember to be careful and use common sense when installing fiber cable. Use clean components. Keep dirt and dust to a minimum. Don’t pull the cable excessively or bend it too sharply around any corners. That way, your fiber optic installation can serve you well for many years.

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    Black Box Explains...vDSL.

    VDSL (Very High Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line or Very High-Speed Digital Subscriber Line) is a “last-mile” broadband solution for both businesses and homes, providing economical, high-speed connections to fiber optic... more/see it nowbackbones.

    VDSL enables the simultaneous transmission of voice, data, and video on existing voice-grade copper wires. Depending on the intended applications, you can set VDSL to run symmetrically or asymmetrically. VDSL’s high bandwidth allows for applications such as high-definition television, video-on-demand (VOD), high-quality videoconferencing, medical imaging, fast Internet access, and regular voice telephone services—all over a single voice-grade twisted pair. The actual VDSL distances you achieve vary based on line rate, gauge and type of wire, and noise/crosstalk environment. collapse


    Black Box Explains...Ethernet hubs vs. Ethernet switches.

    Although hubs and switches look very similar and are connected to the network in much the same way, there is a significant difference in the way they function.

    What is a... more/see it nowhub?
    An Ethernet hub is the basic building block of a twisted-pair (10BASE-T or 100BASE-TX) Ethernet network. Hubs do little more than act as a physical connection. They link PCs and peripherals and enable them to communicate over a network. All data coming into the hub travels to all stations connected to the hub. Because a hub doesn’t use management or addressing, it simply divides the 10- or 100-Mbps bandwidth among users. If two stations are transferring high volumes of data between them, the network performance of all stations on that hub will suffer. Hubs are good choices for small- or home-office networks, particularly if bandwidth concerns are minimal.

    What is a switch?
    An Ethernet switch, on the other hand, provides a central connection in an Ethernet network in which each connected device has its own dedicated link with full bandwidth. Switches divide LAN data into smaller, easier-to-manage segments and send data only to the PCs it needs to reach. They allot a full 10 or 100 Mbps to each user with addressing and management features. As a result, every port on the switch represents a dedicated 10- or 100-Mbps pathway. Because users connected to a switch do not have to share bandwidth, a switch offers relief from the network congestion a shared hub can cause.

    What to consider when selecting an Ethernet hub:
    • Stackability. Select a stackable hub connected with a special cable so you can start with one hub and add others as you need more ports. The entire stack functions as one device.
    • Manageability. Choose an SNMP-manageable hub if you have a large, managed network.

    What to consider when selecting an Ethernet switch:
    • Manageability. Ethernet switches intended for large managed networks feature built-in management, usually SNMP.
    • OSI Layer operation. Most Ethernet switches operate at “Layer 2,” which is for the physical network addresses (MAC addresses). Layer 3 switches use network addresses, and incorporate routing functions to actively calculate the best way to send a packet to its destination. Very advanced Ethernet switches, often known as routing switches, operate on OSI Layer 4 and route network traffic according to the application.
    • Modular construction. A modular switch enables you to populate a chassis with modules of different speeds and media types. Because you can easily change modules, the modular switch is an adaptable solution for large, growing networks.
    • Stackability. Some Ethernet switches can be connected to form a stack of two or more switches that functions as a single network device. This enables you to start with fewer ports and add them as your network grows. collapse


    Black Box Explains...PoE phantom power.

    10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX Ethernet use only two pairs of wire in 4-pair CAT5/CAT5e/CAT6 cable, leaving the other two pairs free to transmit power for Power over Ethernet (PoE) applications. However,... more/see it nowGigabit Ethernet or 1000BASE-T uses all four pairs of wires, leaving no pairs free for power. So how can PoE work over Gigabit Ethernet?

    The answer is through the use of phantom power—power sent over the same wire pairs used for data. When the same pair is used for both power and data, the power and data transmissions don’t interfere with each other. Because electricity and data function at opposite ends of the frequency spectrum, they can travel over the same cable. Electricity has a low frequency of 60 Hz or less, and data transmissions have frequencies that can range from 10 million to 100 million Hz.

    10- and 100-Mbps PoE may also use phantom power. The 802.3af PoE standard for use with 10BASE-T and 100BASE-TX defines two methods of power transmission. In one method, called Alternative A, power and data are sent over the same pair. In the other method, called Alternative B, two wire pairs are used to transmit data, and the remaining two pairs are used for power. That there are two different PoE power-transmission schemes isn’t obvious to the casual user because PoE Powered Devices (PDs) are made to accept power in either format. collapse


    Non-standard PoE

    Because Power over Ethernet (PoE) delivers power over the same cable as data, it’s popular for powering devices such as VoIP phones, wireless access points, and security cameras. It often... more/see it nowleads to significant savings by eliminating the need to install a separate power outlet.

    Most PoE today is standards-based IEEE 802.3af or the newer higher-powered IEEE 802.3at PoE, which are very safe because power source equipment (PSE) doesn’t add power to the data line unless it detects a compatible powered device (PD) connected to the other end of the cable. This protects devices that do not support PoE. PSEs and PDs also negotiate power requirements, so a PD never receives too much power. Both PSEs and PDs have power supplies and regulators isolated from ground to minimize shock hazard.

    But here’s where it gets complicated…
    Because most PoE available today is standards-based 802.3af or 802.3at, it’s easy to forget that there are versions of PoE that are NOT standards based. Some of these non-standards-based versions of PoE feature power injectors that inject power without checking compatibility—and that can be very bad news for an innocent network device.

    Non-standard PoE tends to fall into three categories: proprietary PoE, high-wattage proprietary PoE, and passive PoE.

    Proprietary PoE.
    Before the ratification of the 802.3af standard in 2003, PoE was a free-for-all with many vendors offering their own method of delivering power over data lines. Some vendors still offer their own proprietary PoE. These proprietary solutions offer varying degrees of communication between PSE and PD. Our Black Box® Wireless Point-to-Point Ethernet Extender Kit (LWE100A-KIT) uses Prorietary PoE in the form of 12 VDC running at 12 W, which is well below the 48 VDC and 15.4 W provided by standard 802.3af.

    High-wattage Proprietary PoE.
    Many vendors offer high-wattage PoE solutions designed to deliver from 50 watts to 100 or even 200 watts per port. High-wattage proprietary PoE is often used with high-powered outdoor wireless radios.

    Passive PoE.
    Passive PoE injects power into an Ethernet cable on Pins 4 and 5 with negative return on Pins 7 and 8 and absolutely no communication between PSE and PD. This method was once a very common “home brew” method of transferring power over data cable and is still commonly used in telecomm applications.

    Document and label.
    There’s nothing wrong with PoE that’s not standards based—these power methods work as well as 802.3af/at PoE to power network devices. You do, however, need to be aware of what kind of Power over Ethernet you have and what it will work with. Good network documentation and labeling are the keys that enable you to know that, for instance, that power injector is a high-wattage proprietary injector that will fry the IP camera you’re about to connect. Proper documentation, which is good practice in any case, becomes absolutely vital when you have components that may damage other components.
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