PoE Cabling Explained: Architectures, Advantages, and Applications

Posted on June 23, 2020
July 6, 2020
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Power over Ethernet (PoE), no longer a new buzzword, is shaping the current network ecosystem. Be it digital transformation, Internet of Things (IoT), NextGen wireless, smart devices solutions, etc. are all in rapid growth with the adoption of PoE technology. The structured and converged PoE cabling also has undergone evolvement in the past decade. This article will make an explanation of common PoE cabling architectures, and provide further insights into the benefits and the applications of the zone cabling in PoE deployments.

Architectures for PoE Cabling

A typical PoE system consists of PSE (Power Source Equipment), Power Device (PD), and PoE cable. When considering cabling architecture design options for PoE systems, two main topologies are commonly implemented: dedicated cabling and zone cabling.

Dedicated Cabling

In a dedicated cabling design, aka home-run architecture, the PoE switch and the patch panel are located in the telecommunications room (TR) with permanent link cabling running to each device. Both data and power are sent to the devices outside the TR. A surface mount box or other types of termination at a port may also be included, with patch cords connecting to the devices.

PoE Home-run Cabling Architecture

In a home-run architecture, the devices are centralized in the telecommunications room, which makes it easier to control and maintain active equipment, better for power management as well. However, the tradeoff is the inflexible cabling infrastructure, which makes future modifications difficult.

Zone Cabling

A zone cabling for the PoE system can be further divided into "passive zone" and "active zone." Like home-run cabling, passive zone architecture locates all active gear in the TR. The difference lies in the added consolidation point between the TR and the devices, without having to provide cabling all the way back to the TR, which is beneficial to facilitate moves, adds, and changes (MACs).

PoE Passive Zone Cabling Architecture

In the active zone topology, the PSE is located in the telecommunications enclosure (TE), to accommodate long-distance runs or to facilitate the transmission of large amounts of data between the TE and the TR. Typically, optical fibers are added to connect the PoE switches in the TE and Non-PoE switches in the TR, and the copper cables will run from the TE to the device outlets.

PoE Active Zone Cabling Architecture

Compared with the traditional "home-run" cabling, the zone cabling approach makes it quicker and easier to manage MACs, because shorter-run cables are used to connect zone boxes to local work areas. What's more, this kind of localized topology may only have effects in one small zone at a time, minimizing widespread downtime and network disruption and maintaining maximum productivity.

Advantages of PoE Cabling With Zone Cabling Design

No one-size-fits-all topology for PoE. Each architecture possesses advantages and disadvantages. The traditional structured cabling that covers multiple lengthy copper cables will result in a nest of wires, difficult to maintain, troubleshoot, and expand. Comparatively, for high-power PoE, zone cabling will evidently provide a cost-effective solution. Featuring with its inherent advantage, zone cabling has an easily accessible intermediate connection point, making it possible to locate zone enclosures in an access floor, ceiling, on the wall, or within modular furniture for more convenient access to these connections.

Cabling Topology Comparsion

Specifically speaking, the zone cabling architecture for PoE deployment has the following prominent benefits:


  • Simplified cabling infrastructure: Replacing multiple individual cables running from PoE switches in the TR. Streamlining the cables orderly of connection points with shorter-run cables to devices in each zone.

  • Improved flexibility: Connecting various devices directly in the consolidation point with a patch cord or running from the consolidation point to a fixed workstation outlet with pigtails.

  • Higher utilization: Supporting high-density ports while making more room.

  • Optimized cabling performance: Enabling to provide sufficient Wi-Fi coverage throughout a facility with easier installation and better flexibility as the capacity of the wireless LAN increases.

  • Easier maintenance: No longer running new cables when conducting new installations, making the adjustments and updates easier.

  • Cost-saving for a long-term run: The costs spend on the materials may be a lot in the initial stages. However, adopting zone cabling can meet the upgrade demands in the predictable future, and make it easier for the installers to reconfigure; both money and efforts will be saved accordingly.

An Inevitable Trend: PoE Zone Cabling Applications

PoE was used to power hubs in wiring closets at the beginning, then it developed to expand into connecting devices like Wi-Fi access points and security cameras. In order to leverage the maximum capabilities of PoE, network designers tend to turn to zone cabling architectures as an alternative to traditional home-run cabling in digital buildings. With the aid of PoE, the zone cabling architecture has been applied in various working scenarios, becoming the new normal.

To Apply in Smart Offices

When it comes to zone cabling, "open office" maybe what initially comes to mind. Originally to connect desktop PCs across a large number of cubicles, the zone cabling model is now popular for the integration of smart systems with the network infrastructure.

In the modern workplace: people are on the move all day. Grab the breakfast then dash off to a meeting, check emails on the smartphones while waiting for the elevator. After lunch, communicate with colleagues and bring their laptops or tablets to a collaboration table. In a PoE zone cabling, with PoE wireless access points installed throughout buildings, employees can stay connected wherever they go without needing to stay at their stationary desks.

In open-concept offices, or for those the layout of offices are likely to be reconfigured often, zoned cabling is more cost-effective. That is because the changes to office configuration cause less disruption in the workplace and therefore less downtime, which results in a more productive office. Frankly, the initial set-up cost is expensive, but the savings over time can be significant.

Open Office Scenario

To Serve Multiple Applications

Defined under TIA/EIA standards and well-known for simplifying work area MACs, zone cabling is a topology that extends its reach to other areas and holds many benefits for the deployment of advanced and future technologies. Not just for smart offices only.

For those adopting wireless technology, zone cabling can ease its integration into the network. With a zone-cabling topology in place, PoE wireless access points can be added quickly by connecting to local zone boxes that position them in logical locations to provide the best coverage. The greater the number of zones, the more flexibility you have in deploying a wireless network.

Besides WAPs, surveillance cameras are also ubiquitous with the aid of PoE technology. A PoE switch, powered patch panel, or other power-injecting devices can be located in a TE and used to power the PoE IP cameras. Zone cabling is also the choice in buildings that use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services and PoE lighting.

Cabling is one of the critical determining factors for IoT environments. Once IoT applications scale up, the number of connected devices will increase exponentially, making infrastructure provisioning increasingly complex. PoE cabling provides a solution that converges power and data infrastructure to cater to triple-play services and power consumption demands of edge network assets.

In some practical leasing situations, picking the PoE zone cabling approach will save both time and money. The owners can be prepared for any tenant regardless of how they want to arrange their workforce. Thankfully, this PoE cabling design strategy helps to eliminate unnecessary troubles and benefit both the owner and tenants.

Final Thoughts

PoE enables connectivity in various PDs such as IP phones, video cameras, wireless access points, access control card readers, LED luminaires, etc. for communication applications. Apply PoE technology to a zone cabling design will provide a cost-effective solution, which helps in reducing capital expenditure and brings optimal ROI in turn. Zone cabling for PoE has become a vital part of the global digital transformation journey. The advantages of structured PoE zone cabling are multifold and upcoming industry trends indicate wider acceptance of the same. With the advent of the IoT and digital buildings, PoE cabling is poised for unprecedented expansion.