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What are POE Security Cameras? Everything You Need to Know

When searching for new security cameras, you may have come across the term PoE and wonder what it even means. You might stumble upon many acronyms in the security camera world, but this is one of the most important.

PoE stands for Power over Ethernet. PoE cameras are designed to be connected by a single cable that provides both power and data transfer, making them much easier to install and manage, and allowing for more robust security systems in other ways.

PoE cameras can make a great addition to your security system and even BNC systems can be converted to PoE as we’ve talked about before. They come ready out of the box with an easy setup and operation, although, as we argued in our guide, their length can be a limitation. One of the main draws of PoE cameras is that they are only reliant on one cable. Other security cameras need a separate cable for power to operate, meaning any install or moving of cables requires even more labor, unless you’re using batteries or solar like what is the case with trail cameras (our explanation).

Related Terminology

PoE cameras use Cat5/Cat6 ethernet cables to transfer data and power. These cameras will use RJ45 connections and connect to your PoE enabled NVR based system seamlessly. NVR stands for a network video recorder, and they are essential if you want to use PoE cameras. These cameras are also considered IP cameras which stands for internet protocol, and they can use your home network to transfer data.

IP cameras are unique in that they encode the video feed from analog to digital before sending the data out. To use PoE, you need to make sure that your NVR is PoE enabled; if not, you will need to use a PoE Power Injector (on Amazon) to supply the camera’s necessary power. You may also be able to implement a PoE enabled network switch into your system. 

How Does PoE Work?

Power over Ethernet switch on a white background

PoE works by using the power transfer capabilities of ethernet cables. PoE uses two or more of an ethernet cable’s paired wires to transfer power and there are eight wires in an ethernet cable that are combined in twisted pairs. In most ethernet cables, two of these pairs send information and are known as data pairs.

The other two pairs are known as spare pairs. PoE uses two of these pairs as single conductors to create an electrical current loop that allows the cable to carry electricity. PoE cables usually carry a voltage between 44 and 57 volts DC. Typically the cable will be using around 48 volts which is somewhat high but still considered safe.

This is important to pay attention to because if a device is not rated for PoE, using this higher voltage can damage electronics. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that there will be an element of heat involved when transferring power over cables. This is why you should source quality ethernet cables that have heat shielding equipped for extra protection.

PoE also uses the 802.3af standard for electrical output. This standard provides 13-watts to power your devices. For most cameras, this will be enough to keep things running smoothly. Some cameras may need more power to operate, for instance, it’s not uncommon for some PTZ cameras to need more.

PoE Plus

Because cameras nowadays tend to include more power-intensive features, a new standard was introduced to meet the demand of these devices. It is called 802.3at or PoE Plus and this new standard was meant to complement the 802.3af, rather than replace it. There are a number of characteristics that are different about the PoE Plus.

PoE Plus:

  • Supports more types of network devices. It can provide power to advanced cameras as well as devices like multichannel wireless access points.
  • Doubles the available electrical power to 25.5-watts.
  • Budgets power across multiple devices. 

Always check your camera’s user manual to see what the manufacturer has recommended for power use. However, for most PoE cameras, the standard IEEE 802.3af will do just fine.

Advantages of PoE Security Cameras

Technician installing IP PoE Camera on ceiling indoors, closeup

PoE cameras can make a great addition to your security system because they offer a lot of advantages over using non-PoE equipment. Some of the biggest advantages are how they’re installed, how safe they are to use, their reliability, as well as the fact they can save lot of time and money through minimizing cables that need to be run and the associated labor to install and move.

  • Safety – Because they tend to use much higher voltage electrical current, PoE systems are designed to protect your system from power overload. However, some people believe that PoE forces power into devices which could be unsafe as we stated in our other article on PoE and safety, but this isn’t true. When using a 5-watt camera with a standard 15-watt PoE source, the extra power simply draws the power it needs and the rest moves back through the system.
  • Flexible Installation – One of PoE cameras’ main draws is that they are not tethered to an electrical outlet. Using this to your advantage means having the ability to place cameras in places where a power outlet might not be available. Cameras can also be relocated reasonably easily. There is a limit to this flexibility. At around 300ft, you start to see voltage loss which is a factor for any cable that carries power.
  • Save on Time and Expenses – PoE cables also mean that you won’t have to buy as many cables because you’re only using an ethernet cable, so you can buy bulk cabling like trueCABLE from Amazon and not need additional wiring for power. Another advantage is that you won’t be required to pull multiple wires which saves a lot of time and they’re also easy and safe to work with so hiring an electrician won’t be necessary.
  • Reliable – Since PoE comes from a universal power source rather than a mix of wall adapters, it can be backed up with a stable, uninterrupted power supply. Knowing that your power source will be uninterrupted means that you can trust your cameras will always be running so you won’t have to worry about losing footage. You can even add a UPS between the PoE system and your wall outlet, like the APC 1500VA UPS (on Amazon) which will automatically keep the system up and running if the power goes out.

There are many advantages of using a PoE-based system, which is part of the reason why they’re becoming more popular as time goes on. For instance, they’re easy and convenient to set up and maintain, making them one of the best and most accessible security camera options for use around the home.

Components of a PoE System

There are several key components involved when using a PoE system which are important to pay attention to if you want to have a better understanding of your security system. They are the following:

  • An NVR or Network Video Recorder. These devices allow you to connect PoE IP cameras directly into the NVR hub/recorder, and most will have reliable outputs for video and audio, like HDMI or VGA. These units are designed to be plug and play which means that setup out of the box is as easy as connecting the right cables. When looking for an NVR, make sure you are looking for PoE enabled devices such as the Reolink 4K NVR 8Channel (on Amazon).
  • PoE Camera: These types of cameras, like the Reolink 5MP PoE Camera which you can find on Amazon, are rated for use on PoE systems and require simple connections using ethernet. Some cameras come equipped with extra functions that may require more power to run. Make sure you check what kind of wattage your system can handle before purchasing advanced cameras like PTZ models. 
  • Ethernet Cable; This can be Cat5/Cat 6 cable. While most ethernet cable can be used for PoE, some cables are designed to support PoE with extra heat shielding. Sourcing quality cable can add to the longevity of your system.
  • A Router is necessary to connect all of your devices. Both the NVR and the cameras need to be connected through a router such as the NETGEAR router (on Amazon). The router will give each camera a unique IP address that will allow each one to be connected to the NVR. 
  • A PoE enabled switch may be necessary if you intend to use the maximum amount of cameras your NVR will support. A switch like the TP-Link 5 Port Gigabit PoE Switch (on Amazon) will allow more cameras to be connected and extend your system’s possible length. It also contains multiple ethernet ports that can provide both power and network access to other devices, not just your NVR. 

It is worth noting that there are length limitations with some of these components. Power limitations mean that after around 300ft, any cable that transfers power will start seeing a reduction in voltage. As we wrote about in our PoE tutorial, with a network switch, the power limitation on the PoE ethernet cables is reset. This means you can extend your system by another 300ft if you use one. 

If you only need extra long access to one cable, then you might want to incorporate a PoE extender for those cameras. Thankfully, these are also pretty inexpensive on Amazon and functions with the same power length extension as a switch. 

Modifying BNC Cameras with PoE Functionality

If you are using older BNC cameras in your system, you may be wondering if they can still be viable in a PoE system. These analog cameras require both a BNC connector and the power to operate. With the addition of passive video baluns like the one from Night Owl Security (on Amazon), making this work with a PoE system is possible. 

These devices allow you to connect both the power and the BNC connection into one piece of equipment with an RJ45 output. PoE cameras can add a lot of convenience to your system. They can reliably carry data and power over distances and work seamlessly with an NVR.