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SMB Network Setup: Network Switches VS. PoE Switches

A lot has shifted since the invention of the Internet. It makes the global market more accessible with immediate network connections. Retailers and business owners can access information more quickly and easily to access potential customers around the globe. Internet marketing tools also allow retailers and business owners to provide high values to customers, deliver better business support and accelerate the speed of cash flow. Networks are essential to help your business grow and thrive, and at the moment, most businesses are still utilizing a structured cabling system to provide faster speeds and a more reliable Internet connection. And network switches are critical to making sure your network runs smoothly. These network switches come in two forms: LAN switches and PoE switches, but which one is the best for your network?

What’s a Network Switch?

The network switch connects the devices within the same Local Area Network (LAN) to enable those devices to communicate with each other. Unlike the router that forwards packets from network to network, the network is only used for interconnecting devices. It will be of great help in situations where a wired network connection is required since most routers only come with three or four LAN ports built in, which is far from sufficient in an enterprise-level network where large numbers of network devices need to be set up. By installing a network switch, you can add more Ethernet ports to expand your network size. 

Managed & Unmanaged Switches

Depending on the throughput needed for the tasks to be fulfilled, network switches vary in the network speed they can offer, ranging from Fast Ethernet to 10 Gigabit Ethernet. But in general, they fall into two categories: unmanaged and managed switches. The unmanaged switch is only designed for basic connectivity, and it’s basically plug-and-play, offering no configuration. You’ll often see it used in small networks where a few more ports are needed to add temporary groups of systems to a larger network. The unmanaged switch is relatively cost-effective with the price ranging from $50 to $100. The managed switch, however, comes with significantly higher costs. But it can also be configured to prioritize certain channels, create new VLANs and deliver major security benefits to custom-fit your network. When your network becomes more complex, a higher level of management is required, and this is why you’ll need to use the managed switch to create an optimized network to achieve more than basic needs and have better control over data flow throughout your network.  

Benefits of Using Managed Switches in Business 

1) Improved Manageability

The managed switch helps to prioritize the traffic flow of each network port. Since different network devices have different bandwidth requirements, the managed network switch helps you control the amount of traffic that is forwarded to ensure that you get the best performance where you need it. You can prioritize certain channels at your will by configuring low-bandwidth-consumption devices to low priority. Moreover, features like SNMP make it much easier to troubleshoot network issues remotely. VLANs can also be used to segment the network into different sections to better manage the traffic. 

2) Higher Reliability 

Managed switches provide services like network monitoring and problem diagnosis to allow you to have better control over your network. It supports a comprehensive data recovery mechanism, which will highly reduce network downtime in a network crash. Another major advantage of using a managed switch in business networks is its high security since it can only provide access to trusted devices to block unauthorized access and unknown devices. New VLANs can also be created to provide temporary or limited access for those that normally shouldn’t have access. 

Disadvantages of Using Managed Switches in Business 

1) Complicated Setup Procedures

Although the managed network switch comes with a wide range of features and provides more flexibility to administrators, it’s very complicated to set up. You’ll need an operator who understands network concepts and configuration and knows how to set QoS levels for a specific port and enable MAC filtering and other access control features. And given that these managed switches are often installed in a wider range of topologies like ring, tree and mesh networks which allow for greater reliability and redundancy, you will need to figure out the best topology for your SMB network. 

2) High Costs

Managed network switches are more expensive than unmanaged network switches because they are designed for intensive workloads, heavy traffic, and deployments that require configuration. So it would be a huge investment for small business owners As mentioned earlier, professional operators are required for switch configuration, which will highly increase installation time and labor costs. And considering that the network switch can only provide Internet access to the connected devices, extra power cabling will be required to make those devices function properly. 

What Is PoE?

Short for Power over Ethernet, PoE is a revolutionized technology to deliver electrical power over the same data cable to PoE-compliant devices at a maximum distance of 100 meters. With a PoE connection, power and data can be transmitted simultaneously using one Ethernet cable instead of having a separate cable for each. A PoE system consists of power sourcing equipment (PSE) and a powered device (PD). PSE is the device that sends power, such as PoE switches and PoE injectors, while the device that is powered is PD. Each Ethernet cable has four twisted pairs, in which two pairs (known as data pairs) are used for data transmission, while the others are reserved for power supply. However, in Gigabit Ethernet, by far the most commonly used Ethernet standard today, all four pairs carry data.

PoE Standards

There are four PoE standards available in the PoE technology, i.e. PoE, PoE+, PoE++ and high-power PoE. PoE can support a maximum power supply of 15.4W at the PSE with the minimum power guaranteed at the PD being 12.95W. However, the IEEE802.3at-compliant PSE can deliver up to 30W on a per-port basis (power available at the PD will be 25.5W). In the latest IEEE802.3bt standards, PoE++ and high-power PoE, PSE can provide up to 60/90 watts of power at each PoE port with the remaining power being 51/71.3W at the PD to meet the demands of devices requiring higher power. 

What Devices Can Use PoE? 

PoE is an advanced technology that allows for both power and data transmission over the network cable to connect PoE devices, such as IP security cameras, WiFi 6 access points, IP video intercoms and POS machines. PoE is widely used in out-of-/hard-to-reach places, such as parking lots and ceilings, where it’s hard to install new cables or network facilities. You won’t notice any difference in the operation or reliability of the powered device, since the difference is mainly revealed in the convenience of power options. It’s widely used in smart building automation to install voice command devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, remote control systems like building access controls, and many other intelligent devices. Moreover, it’s extremely convenient when it comes to adding new clients to the offices. 

What’s a PoE Switch?

A PoE switch is a network switch that is built with PoE functions to transmit both power and data to the PoE-enabled devices. The most obvious advantage of using a PoE switch is that it offers great flexibility for installation and relocation in places where no power is present, which greatly improves the scalability of network architecture and reduces the installation costs. The PoE switch is hot-swappable, which makes it ultra user-friendly for home uses and small and medium-sized businesses. An active PoE switch is equipped with auto-sensing PoE ports that automatically detect the compatibility of the connected devices to lower the chances of power outages, operation failures, etc., and prevent irreversible electrical damages caused to the PDs. The PoE switch is widely used in different scenarios, from home to office, industry to neighborhood, indoors and outdoors, etc. 

PoE Switches Bring Many Benefits to SMBs

PoE switches benefit small and medium-sized businesses by dramatically reducing network cabling, simplifying installation, cutting down power consumption, etc. 

1) Reduced Power Cabling

And network device that connects to the Internet with an Ethernet cable will also need a power cord. The main advantage of PoE is that it reduces the cost of installing additional electrical outlets and extension cables to operate your network devices since power and data can be transmitted via the same network cable. This makes installation simpler and less expensive, which will be of great help in network upgrades by adding new connections and devices to the existing network system. 

2) Centralized Power Management

PoE provides a safe and efficient power solution to improve remote management and overall energy efficiency. It centralizes the source of electricity to power devices like VoIP phones, security cameras, wireless APs, IP intercoms, etc. The PDs can be remotely powered on and monitored from a centralized point rather than a collection of randomly distributed AC outlets, making it easier to troubleshoot. Moreover, by incorporating PoE into your business, power consumption can be dramatically reduced since energy can be distributed more efficiently to the PDs. 

3) Fiber Connectivity

With the integration of fiber optic networks into the PoE system, many PoE switches now are equipped with one or two SFP interfaces to facilitate seamless, high-speed data communication over extended distances in a variety of applications. And it also comes useful in long-distance transmission to minimize signal degradation over long cable runs. One of the benefits of having fiber connections on your network is that it’s immune to EMI and other sorts of interferences. 

Limitations and Drawbacks

1) Standard PoE Limit

Theoretically, the Ethernet cable is designed to work over a maximum distance of 100 meters in a twisted-pair cabling system. Beyond this inherent limit, signals will gradually deteriorate and become distorted due to cable resistance and electromagnetic interference (EMI) over the long cable run. In addition, PoE only powers the device only when there is sufficient voltage, and the maximum distance that a device can be powered depends on the required voltage and cable quality. For example, if too much power is lost during the transmission, the PD will also fail even if it’s within the 100-meter limit. 

2) Compatibility Issues

PoE switches are only designed for use with PoE-compatible devices. The compatibility between the PSE and PD can be a huge problem when deploying PoE in the business network since not every network device is PoE-supported. A non-PoE device plugged into an active PoE port is completely safe since only data will be forwarded. That’s because active PoE will negotiate the correct voltage between the PSE and PD, which means the PoE port will detect if the connected device is a PoE device or not and decide how much power the connected device requires. However, when a non-PoE device is plugged into a passive PoE port, it will likely be damaged when it’s connected to the wrong voltage. In passive PoE, the switch is always sending electric current out at a certain voltage so you must know the voltage of the connected device. 

Different Types of PoE Switches

1) Unmanaged PoE Switch

The unmanaged PoE switch is a relatively simple plug-and-play device that can’t be modified or managed. The unmanaged switches are normally manufactured with a fixed configuration and with merely no security features. It’s a rather affordable option normally used in local networks where only a few devices need to be installed. It’s an ideal solution for SMB owners who have a limited budget or little network experience since it’s more of plug-and-play technology. 

2) L2+ Managed PoE Switch

Apart from basic features shared by the unmanaged PoE switch, the managed PoE switch also supports a wider variety of configuration options, advanced security settings, VLAN functions, QoS services, port mirroring and remote troubleshooting with SNMP. It’s a centralized ‘data+power’ management center where you can configure the network speed and amount of power on each port. The layer 2+ managed PoE switches can provide direct and visual network management on a web browser, allowing you to create VLANs on the switch to help you segment the network. Improved security levels prevent any direct tempering on the device and fend off cyberattacks. They also provide a simple way to create a data link between two geographically isolated locations without latency.

3) PoE Powered Switch

The PoE powered switch can work as a PD and a PSE, which means that the switch itself can be powered by an upstream PoE switch or injector while simultaneously providing power to the connected PDs, so it can be installed in any place without the constraints of an AC outlet. The PoE powered switch can be applied in hard-to-access spaces, such as attics, closets, above drop ceilings, basements or places where the existing power outlets are already occupied for other uses. And like the regular PoE switch, the PoE powered switch will only supply power to PoE-compatible devices. By using the PoE powered switch, you can easily expand the deployment distance to another 100 meters.

4) Outdoor PoE Switch 

The outdoor PoE switch is a network switch that is specially designed for use in outdoor or harsh environments. It’s an all-in-one outdoor solution to transmit both power and data to the PDs installed outdoors to eliminate the need for installing new AC outlets in remote places. It’s manufactured and tested to meet industrial standards for operation even in applications that require the highest level of reliability like surveillance camera systems. The outdoor PoE switch provides a safe and stable network connection and an uninterruptible power source to ensure the continuous operation of PoE devices. It normally comes with a rugged, waterproof enclosure (IP65 or above) and is available in Din-Rail, wall and pole mounting options. Each PoE port is armed with 6kV surge protection to protect the device from damages caused by lightning strikes, unstable power input and electrical surges, which makes it safer and more reliable in outdoor applications. 

PoE Switch VS. Network Switch

The main difference between a PoE switch and a network switch is PoE accessibility. The network switch is not PoE-enabled to supply power, so an additional power source is demanded to power the edge devices, while the PoE switch can send power and data together down the same Ethernet cable to the PDs. This allows PDs such as IP surveillance cameras to be placed almost anywhere, including ceilings, walls, and even underwater, with just one cable needed to run to them. Simplified cabling for all PDs directly connected to the PoE switch makes it easier to manage and control LAN traffic from your data center. In addition, by using an active PoE switch, you can mix PoE and non-PoE devices in the same network safely by only forwarding data to the non-PoE devices. And based on your deployment needs, you can disable the PoE functions of the PoE switch and use it as a regular switch. 

Which One to Choose? 

If you want a simpler and faster setup, PoE switches are obviously the best option provided that PoE eliminates the need to run additional power cables to devices, making great savings on installation and maintenance costs. Moreover, they give you wider options for positioning. You can install the IP cameras where they give you the best view and place the access points where they provide the best coverage. Network connections can be easily altered to make changes easy and cheap. Considering that PoE is a future-proof technology, by incorporating PoE switches into your network infrastructure, network expansion will be greatly simplified as your business grows. However, when you don’t need any power sent to your connected device or if you’re not ready to upgrade the entire system to PoE, using a network switch will make more sense. It can be a more cost-effective choice for small and mid-sized businesses, so you can spend more money promoting your business. 

How Can You Upgrade to PoE Switches?

To upgrade your existing network infrastructure in a more budget-friendly way, all you need is a PoE injector. The PoE injector can be implemented to make a non-PoE network switch to work with PoE-compatible devices. It is a useful tool that enables the older switch to work with PoE-compatible devices by injecting the PoE capabilities into the legacy network system. A great solution for applications where only a few PoE ports are demanded. More specifically, it can be used to power IP security cameras, WAPs, VoIP phones or any products compliant with IEEE802.3 standards with a single network cable. The PoE injector can be installed in-line between the regular network switch and the PD, and the maximum distance on each side can reach 100 meters. Moreover, by using a 10 Gigabit 95W BT PoE injector, you’ll be able to power high-power-consumption PoE devices like LED lighting, digital signage, IP intercoms and RFID readers with a much faster data transfer speed. 

How Can Older Network Devices Work With PoE Switches? 

Since most legacy devices don’t come with an RJ45 interface, to connect a PoE-enabled PSE with a not PoE-compatible PD, say a computer, you’ll need a PoE splitter. The PoE splitter is a cost-effective solution to power a non-PoE device by splitting PoE from a unified network cable and delivering power and data through separate connections. It often works with a PoE switch or a PoE injector to power non-PoE devices in hard-to-reach areas where is hard to find a power outlet, eliminating the need for additional AC wiring. The PoE splitter can also be used to bring a 48V DC down to a low voltage electrical current (regulated 5, 12 or 24V), enabling the safe connection to devices with a low input voltage range.

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