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Foundation Topics: Connecting and Powering Cisco IP Phones

Before we can get to the point of plugging in phones and having happy users placing and receiving calls, we must first lay the foundational infrastructure of the network. This includes technologies such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), voice VLANs, and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). The network diagram shown in Figure 3-1 represents the placement of these technologies. As you read this chapter, each section will act as a building block to reach this goal. The first item that must be in place is power for the Cisco IP Phones.

Figure 3-1

Figure 3-1 VoIP Network

Cisco IP Phones connect to switches just like any other network device (such as PCs, IP-based printers, and so on). Depending on the model of IP phone you are using, it may also have a built-in switch. Figure 3-2 illustrates the connections on the back of a Cisco 7960 IP Phone.

Figure 3-2

Figure 3-2 Cisco IP Phone Ethernet Connections

The ports shown in Figure 3-2 are as follows:

  • RS232: Connects to a expansion module (such as a 7914, 7915, or 7916)
  • 10/100 SW: Used to connect the IP phone to the network
  • 10/100 PC: Used to connect a co-located PC (or other network device) to the IP Phone

After you physically connect the IP phone to the network, it needs to receive power in some way. There are three potential sources of power in a Cisco VoIP network:

  • Cisco Catalyst Switch PoE (Cisco prestandard or 802.3af power)
  • Power Patch Panel PoE (Cisco prestandard or 802.3af power)
  • Cisco IP Phone Power Brick (wall power)

Let's dig deeper into each one of these power sources.

Cisco Catalyst Switch PoE

If you were to create an Ethernet cable (Category 5 or 6), you would find that there are eight wires (four pairs of wires) to crimp into an RJ-45 connector on each end of the connection. Further study reveals that only four of the wires are used to transmit data. The other four remain unused and idle...until now.

The terms inline power and PoE describe two methods you can use to send electricity over the unused Ethernet wires to power a connected device. There is now a variety of devices that can attach solely to an Ethernet cable and receive all the power they need to operate. In addition to Cisco IP Phones, other common PoE devices include wireless access points and video surveillance equipment.

Powering devices through an Ethernet cable offers many advantages over using a local power supply. First, you have a centralized point of power distribution. Many users expect the phone system to continue to work even if the power is out in the company offices. By using PoE, you can connect the switch powering the IP phones to an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) instead of placing a UPS at the location of each IP phone. PoE also enables you to power devices that are not conveniently located next to a power outlet. For example, it is a common practice to mount wireless access points in the ceiling, where power is not easily accessible. Finally, PoE eliminates much of the "cord clutter" at employees' desks.

PoE became an official standard (802.3af) in 2003. However, the IP telephony industry was quickly developing long before this. To power the IP phones without an official PoE standard, some proprietary methods were created, one such method being Cisco Inline Power.

Powering the IP Phone Using a Power Patch Panel or Coupler

Many companies already have a significant investment in their switched network. To upgrade all switches to support PoE would be a significant expense. These organizations may choose to install intermediary devices, such as a patch panel, that are able to inject PoE on the line. The physical layout for this design is demonstrated in Figure 3-3.

Figure 3-3

Figure 3-3 Design for Power Patch Panels or Inline Couplers

By using the power patch panel, you still gain the advantage of centralized power and backup without requiring switch upgrades.

Inline PoE injectors provide a low-cost PoE solution for single devices (one device per coupler). These are typically used to support wireless access points or other "single spot" PoE solutions. Using inline PoE couplers for a large IP Phone network would make a mess of your wiring infrastructure and exhaust your supply of electrical outlets (because each inline PoE coupler requires a dedicated plug).

Powering the IP Phone with a Power Brick

Using a power brick to power a device is so simple that it warrants only brief mention. Thus, the reason for this section is primarily to mention that most Cisco IP Phones do not ship with power supplies. Cisco assumes most VoIP network deployments use PoE. If you have to choose between purchasing power bricks and upgrading your switch infrastructure, it's wise to check the prices of the power bricks. The average Cisco IP Phone power brick price is between $30–$40 USD. When pricing out a 48-switchport deployment, purchasing power bricks for all the IP phones may very well be in the same price range as upgrading the switch infrastructure.

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