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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Switch on for powered data networks
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

The days of travelling with lots of different adapters to ensure you can recharge your laptop, phone and other gadgets could soon be at an end.

RJ45 Ethernet connector, Eyewire
The humble RJ45 could have a big future
Instead of needing adapters, computer networks could soon be supplying the devices they interconnect with both data and power.

Some makers of network equipment are already putting the power via data cable system into their products.

The basic plugs for computer networks are the same all over the world, raising the possibility that powered data cables could become a universal back-up power supply.

Piped power

The most widely used data networking technology, called ethernet, recently celebrated its 30th birthday.

Typically devices linked together by an ethernet network only use it to swap data back and forth.

But soon the basic ethernet specifications could be extended to allow both power and data to be sent over the same wires.

Amir Lehr, vice president of business development and strategic planning at Israeli company PowerDsine, said the idea of supplying power via data cables had been perfected over the last four years.

Network-powered electric shaver, PowerDsine
This razor is powered by Ethernet
It is an extension of basic networking technology that converts data into voltages and then sends them down a wire.

Mr Lehr said that this month the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers was due to extend the core 802.3 ethernet standard to include specifications for the power over data cable technology.

Mr Lehr said electric plugs, power outlets and voltages were different all over the world but ethernet used the same small range of connectors and cables no matter where it was installed.

"The RJ45 connector is a universal outlet," he said. "It's the only one identical in Asia, Europe and the US."

Power over ethernet technology uses existing cables and needs no changes to be made to existing infrastructure.

The power over ethernet system made it much cheaper to set up data networks supporting wi-fi access points, remote webcams and even notebook computers because it removes the need to put in place separate power cables.

The fact that network devices are sitting only on a data cable makes it easier to manage them and reboot them remotely, said Mr Lehr.

Even though the final specifications for power over ethernet are only now being given the official stamp of approval, products have already appeared that have the technology built in.

Power gadgets

Plymouth College of Further Education has become one of the first users of the technology to help manage its estate of machines and networks spread across two campuses more than two kilometres apart.

Supplying power to wi-fi access points and other network devices by ethernet cut the cost of creating and installing a campus-wide wireless network.

Mr Lehr said the technology was likely to find the greatest use inside large companies that have a lot of computer networks and lots of devices spread around that need to be remotely managed.

But, he said, eventually the power over ethernet could become a back-up power supply for almost any gadget.

Already PowerDsine has used it to charge a shaver and Gibson have created an electric guitar that takes its power from its data connection.

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