Tech Chat: Single Pair Ethernet: Solving the "Last Meter" Challenge | Mouser Electronics
2024 marks the 51st anniversary of ethernet. The original ethernet used some seriously heavy duty cable, about 12 millimeters in diameter. The first commercial versions paired that down to 9.5 millimeter coax, known not so fondly as thick acts. To enable the industrial internet of things and connect billions devices, we need a better solution. Thankfully single pair ethernet is here and delivering more functionality than ever with power and data together to enable the last mile of the industry 4.0 revolution.
On today's Tech Chat, sponsored by Mouser Electronics, we are joined by Mark Sherman, a senior manager in business development at Molex. Welcome to Tech Chat, Mark. Thank you Dale. Great to be here. So can you give us a quick overview of what we'll be talking about today? We're gonna talk about a new and emerging technology called single pair ethernet. Well that sounds good.
Now since we have an engineering audience and like to be precise, let's start with some definitions. What is single pair ethernet? Single pair ethernet is a new transmission standard for ethernet over a single pair of wires. It's similar to other technologies that I'm sure people are familiar with, primarily power over ethernet.
But the main difference is that single pair ethernet entails the delivery of both power and signal over one single pair rather than two pairs or four pairs, which is what we would see with power over ethernet. So there's an established standard to support single pair ethernet. It's covered under the same standards that the other ethernet communication standards are covered under. So this is an established functional standard that was established about two years ago to cover the connector standards, the cabling standards, the ethernet transmission, and the general application guidelines under which it's supplied.
So single pair ethernet, the development of the standard's been taking place with two working groups. One is the single pair ethernet industrial partner network, the other one is the single pair ethernet system alliance. Lot of time and attention has been paid to developing this standard. However, the IEC has now settled on an internationally adopted standard and that is the one that was developed by the group on the left.
So with all of that done, all of the standards in place, it's now time for everybody to get to work, working with device manufacturers and with the controls and automation industry in general on the implementation of this new standard. Now this slide's basically a who's who of the leading industrial connector and cable companies from really across the globe. So it's a good reminder that while you guys often compete for business, you also collaborate to enable the technology that are gonna benefit all of us.
That's right. Yep, that's correct. So Mark, ethernet started in 1973. Why are we now getting single pair ethernet? Is it the technology, the standards, or all of the above? Great question, Dale.
So you're absolutely right. Ethernet has been around for a long time and especially over the last 20 years we've seen a broad adoption of ethernet in a number of different applications. But when we take a look at the automation pyramid and the implementation of ethernet on the factory floor, it's been adopted throughout most of the ERP, MES, SCADA and signal processing systems or the control systems. But there's been one challenge and that is in using ethernet down at the field level, the very outer edges of the automation system where most of the sensors and actuators reside. So single pair ethernet has been developed to allow these edge devices to be connected directly onto the ethernet networks.
Now the challenge that the automation field has faced, I equate it to a challenge that's often discussed in the area of e-commerce and logistics. So when you think about e-commerce today, there's been a lot of focus and attention on what they call the last mile challenge or even the last mile problem. So when you think about companies like Amazon, products can be shipped and transported from manufacturing sites out to distribution centers very efficiently and cost effectively. You can load a 747 up with millions of dollars worth of merchandise, fly it from some far away factory into the United States into a distribution center very easily and very cost effectively. But many of the delivery challenges and delivery costs occur in what's called the last mile. In reality, it's about the last 50 miles or so when you try to deliver products from a distribution center to somebody's doorstep.
When you think about it, the products then need to be dispersed. There's a fleet of delivery vehicles that are required and there's a number of challenges between that distribution center and that doorstep that the delivery person can encounter. Whether it's bad weather, traffic, could be a dog in the yard of the home where it's trying to be delivered.
A lot of costs, a lot of time, and a lot of, let's call it complications are encountered during that last mile. So in the field of automation and when it comes to connecting devices to ethernet, similar challenges are faced getting that last field level sensing technology centers and actuators connected to those ethernet networks. First and foremost among those challenges has been how do you get a cabling and connector system that's compact enough to deliver that power and deliver that ethernet into these small sensing devices and actuators. That's the main issue and the main challenge that single pair ethernet is solving and really the main reason why it was developed. Yeah, that's really interesting.
I kind of look at this and say how important is, we talk about the industrial internet of things. We wanna connect everything and collect mountains of data to make everything more efficient and be more productive. But it only makes sense if you can do that cost effectively. And then space of course also related to that cost. Yep, that's exactly right.
So let's take a closer look at the actual connector and cabling system that has been developed under single pair ethernet. In my opinion, this is a highly disruptive technology because it really does change the game about how ethernet and power can be delivered, not only to those edge devices, but in general how ethernet can be implemented in automation systems. And I would say there's, it translates into other application areas as well, potentially into commercial applications and other transportation applications. So it has a big impact on the controls topology.
We'll take a look at that over the course of the next few slides that we're gonna discuss. But again, the main function that it's providing is it's streamlining data access, which is very critical for IIOT or Internet of Things applications. The system supports up to one gigabit of bandwidth or one gigabit data rate at up to 40 meters. And also at 10 megabits for a copper based system, it'll deliver that ethernet signal up to one kilometer.
That becomes another interesting benefit of this technology. So we'll take a look at that in some of the slides to come as well. But as I mentioned, the technology is called PODL or power over data line.
On the power side, it'll support up to 50 watts of power over this single pair. So you can see on this slide it consists of an IP 20 jack, which we can see in the picture on the top left. Our product offering consists right now of a PC mount jack that can be mounted either vertically or at a 90 degree angle. Just below that jack is a picture of the IP 20 connector with a cable on it. So these products would be used where in conventional ethernet installations people are using RJ45 connectors and plugs.
And then on the right side there's also an IP67 rated standard so that when people are going outside of the cabinets into more harsh areas of the factory, you can use a fully sealed system that will stand up to the vibration, dust and potential exposure to chemicals and liquids that can occur out there on a factory floor. So in cabinet IP20 applications, out of cabinet IP67 applications, it's a fully comprehensive system that'll support all of the requirements on a factory floor. There's two different cable standards that are being deployed. There's a 26 gauge single pair which will support that gigabit communication at up to 15 meters, and then a 22 gauge system, which is typically going to be used outside of the cabinet. And that'll support the gigabit communication up to 40 meters.
Well that's really helpful there, that kind of background for people looking to decide what kind of cable do they need and how do I choose between the different wire gates. So appreciate that, Mark. You bet. One thing since you mentioned it, and I'll also add, so within the cabling standard, the basic cable types that are supported right now is a PUR cable, a PVC cable. There's also FRNC cable and FEP cables that are available. So when you put all of these different cable types together, I'd say that it covers most of the real world application requirements that people are going to see.
Whether it is something that's going to be used in a military application, onboard in vehicles, other transportation applications such as aerospace, airplanes, in automobiles, and then on the factory floor, it will give people different options depending on the flexibility that's needed in the cable or chemical resistance against commonly encountered oils, solvents, and chemicals that people might see out on the factory floor. Oh, thanks for that excellent description of all the different cables types that are available. So now provide me some context. How does this T1 single pair ethernet performance compare with the predecessors? Okay, so if we take a look at the typical cables and connectors that are being deployed in common factory applications today, typically the systems that are being installed are category five E rated. We're really just entering the period right now where, from my perspective and the automation customers that I'm working with are just starting to standardize on a gigabit or higher infrastructure.
But by and large, 99.9% of the installations that are out there in factories today are based on Cat5e performance standards. Within those standards, industrial customers today are typically installing a two pair Cat5 Cat5e system. They're using the RJ45 connectors inside of the cabinet or M12D connectors outside of the cabinet. And their installation length, whether they're using 10 megabit or a hundred megabit per second data rates can only be installed up to a hundred meters.
Support using those cables up to gigabit or 10 gigabit, if people want to do that, they then need to go to a four pair system that will support Cat6 or Cat6a. Again, they're using an RJ45 or an M12X connector depending on if they're inside or outside of the cabinet. But again, you're not gonna get any longer than 100 meter of cable length within those standards. So SPE or single pair ethernet becomes very interesting in that you can use it to support Cat5 or Cat6, you can use your T1 connector for inside of the cabinet or the M12 or M8 variant of that if you need IP67 protection outside of a cabinet. But the interesting thing again being if people only need Cat5 at 10 megabits per second, they can go up to 1.7 kilometers
using a copper base system like SPE. At a hundred megabit or one gigabit per second, it will go and support up to 40 meters installation length. Now 40 meters compared to a hundred meters may not seem like it's that long of a distance, but from my experience working with customers installing highly complex automation systems, from my experience, 98% of all of the ethernet cables that are installed, thinking back to that automation pyramid that we were discussing earlier from the MES system, all the way down to the field level, don't exceed 40 meters.
So single pair ethernet by my estimation, can be used in the far majority of all of the ethernet cabling applications that automation end users are using today. Yeah, that's really fascinating 'cause you know, when I think about a factory, I think, wow, some of these are really big or logistics center, so it's a little surprising to me that 98% are less than 40 meters. But you know, some of the things where just that experience sometimes is more important than just our general intuition. Right. And it's really fascinating to me that you get such longer distances at the low data rates.
Is that bigger cable just higher quality? What's allowing that to 10 megabits per second for one kilometer? So another great question, Dale. So when we get to the one kilometer range, that actually needs to be accommodated with a larger 18 gauge wire. But we're very interested to talk to customers about all of their use cases. I would say, as I encounter as well, even with the existing systems that are based on two pair and four pair, and while they can support up to a gigabit or even 10 gigabits per second, oftentimes I find in the actual field level applications, customers don't need to support the full, I'll call it application capacity of the system. So we know we can do 10 megabits per second up to one kilometer. Customers who actually need that, we wanna talk to them.
We want to be providing them with samples and letting them test the product, test the system and see how it works. But the actual standards that we talked about earlier in this presentation, they're established around that 40 meter maximum application that we see on the chart right here and up to one gigabits per second. Well, excellent.
Well hopefully in our audience we've got some people that are trying to tackle those long distances and they'll hook up with you. That'd be great. So another interesting thing, when you look at the connector standard, that T1 connector that would be used in place of an RJ45, for those that are implementing single pair ethernet technology, the physical form factor is 30% smaller than an RJ45.
But all of the other associated electronics that would then be used to build, for example, an ethernet switch, based on single pair ethernet, actually allows the device designers and builders to deliver a product that occupies half of the real estate that an RJ45 based ethernet switch would occupy. Yeah, everything's getting smaller and data rates get higher. Those things just every part of the industry. So it's not surprising to see that here that you guys are accommodating that with the single pair ethernet.
Now we've kind of talked about the specifications. What are some example applications where single pair ethernet is getting adopted? Okay, so let's take a look at the actual field level implementation of current ethernet based systems and single pair ethernet, and really the impact that single pair ethernet starts to have on those installations. So right here we're looking at a typical automation and control system. We've got various cables that are being used in that field level implementation.
The green cables are the ethernet cables, the black cables are the 24 volt DC control power cables that are used to power all of the devices that are out there. And then when we get down to the field level devices, those connections to the field devices, again, as we talked about before, those centers and those actuators are being made through electronic devices like we see along that bottom row. They're IP67 IO modules commonly in today's installations. So to get that signal either from the center back to the controller or sent from the controller out to the actuators, it's gonna go through that IO module. The IO module has an ethernet communication interface in it typically, and then you've just got discrete wiring coming out of those blocks. So it's delivering the power and the signal out to those sensors.
Let me clarify also, by sensors, in a typical automation system, what we're talking about today are things like inductive proximity sensors. They might be photo eyes or photoelectric sensors. They could be light curtains, they could be door switches. On the actuator side, we're talking about commonly a pneumatic valve. It could be a hydraulic valve of some sort.
It could be a DC motor, a DC electric motor of some sort that's controlling a valve or a clamp out there in the automation system. So again, the general topology looks like what we have pictured here, but when we then go to a single pair ethernet system, the impact can be quite substantial. So on this slide, what we're taking a look at on the top left, we've got the commonly used M12D code or M 12 X code ethernet connectors. Whether it's, again, a category five or category six based system, it's gonna use one of those two connectors and the associated cabling that's inside of it. So when you go to single pair ethernet, you're making a significant reduction in the number of pairs and flatly put the amount of copper that has to go into that communication infrastructure.
All of those green cables that we're looking at going to a single pair, you're reducing just for the communication function, the amount of wiring by 50 to 75% within those green cables. Now the other important benefit of using single pair ethernet is you're able to put those field level devices that are connected to what were IO modules down on the bottom row, those IO modules because we're gonna connect them directly to ethernet, single pair Ethernet's gonna allow that. So you're now able to get that sensor directly on your network. By doing that, you're able to build more intelligence into your system 'cause that intelligence now can be built right into that sensor or that actuator. By putting it right on the network, the automation designers are now able to, number one, identify the device that's on the network. Without single pair ethernet and without connecting that device on the network, the network doesn't really know what's connected in there.
That IO module is going to be identifying a port and an input signal. But before single pair ethernet, if you remove that device, again, let's just say it's an inductive proximity sensor, that device fails, a maintenance person unplugs it, they plug the new one in. You don't know if they plugged in the exact same sensor, it could have been a different brand of sensor or that maintenance person might've even made a mistake and instead plugged a door switch into that port instead of that same inductive proximity sensor. That can lead to all sorts of problems in the automation system 'cause the controller doesn't know that that mistake was made.
It's completely dependent on that maintenance person not making that mistake. With single pair ethernet, you've got a more intelligent system, number one. So when that replacement device is plugged in, it's communicating back to the controller, hello controller, I'm that same device.
So you can start to build other safeguards in your system. Back at the controller, you can be telling the controller, if I don't get that same product ID back when that device is replaced, do not start the system. Other great things that the single pair ethernet allows people to do is you can now get more diagnostic information from the devices by them being connected directly to the network. So, and devices are being created to have more and more intelligence on board. So again, going back to an inductive proximity sensor, you can now monitor the voltage level that is going through that sensor, as well as the current level. You might start to see voltage or signal anomalies that are indicative of a pending failure.
You can also start to be counting the number of operations of that device. If it's got a meantime before failure of let's say 1 million operations, you start building that into your automation system and you say, okay, when I get to 900,000 operations, it's time to go change that sensor out. And you can start to build a much more proactive, much more intelligent based maintenance system within your automation system. Now given the fact that we're going to be connecting these devices through single pair ethernet, that IO module now also becomes an ethernet switch.
So you're able to eliminate that bridge between the ports on that IO block that connect it to the ethernet system. It becomes a simple ethernet switch. And by making that adjustment in the overall design, that reduces a lot of the complication in terms of the configuration and the monitoring of the system and it reduces the overall cost of the electronics that need to be implemented in the system. So we're seeing a reduction in the amount of cabling, a reduction in the amount of copper and an overall simplification in the way that that more intelligent system is being deployed, monitored, configured and maintained. And this end is really pulling together all those things that people dream about with the industrial IOT of getting everything connected very simply, being able to see what's out there, improve your maintenance, improve your production flows, that's all being enabled and you're getting a lot more or lot less cost, I should say in the installation.
That's absolutely correct. Now I focus very much in the impact of SPE on the ethernet cabling with the 50 to 75% reduction in the wiring. Now there's also a reduction in the cost of the cables that are going to go from that IO module now becoming an ethernet switch to the devices. So typically devices that are plugged into a, I'll call it a conventional non SPE system, they're gonna have three or four wires going from that module into that field level device. But by going to single pair ethernet, again you're going to just two wires because you're delivering your ethernet communication and your power into that device. So there's a similar but less significant reduction in the amount of physical wiring that has to go from what is now a switch into the device.
And then I think we're gonna see in time that the 24 volt DC control power wiring overall that today on the right side of this diagram is being accomplished using either a four or five pole, seven eighth inch mini change connector, the gray cable with the black connectors that we see on the right. Or more commonly today M 12 power connectors. more and more of that will be eliminated due to the availability of the power on the single pair ethernet cables as well. Exact impact, we can only speculate at this point, but we'll see some reductions in the requirements for that wiring as well. So overall, I don't know the exact impact that we're going to have, but there's gonna be a reduction in the overall wiring and cost, the physical cabling costs in these systems.
There's a result of the single pair ethernet being deployed. That's really exciting, Mark. What are some specific industries that you're seeing as the early adopters of single pair ethernet? Great question, Dale. So you know, we've been very focused on what would be a typical factory automation system. But when you think about a factory automation system to get widescale adoption in that area, in that application area, you also have to have widescale adoption from all of the controls and all of the device manufacturers.
So there's other areas where we can get faster adoption and those are areas where you've got a machine builder or a manufacturer that has much greater control over the complete automation system. So I've got a few examples of that right here. In the area of robotics, companies that build robots could easily implement this system from the robot controller out to the end of the arm and control most if not all of the devices that are going into that system and all of the wiring. Now another great advantage in using this system on robotics is they're very conscious of weight out on the end of arms of the robot.
More weight creates more lifting force. So they're always trying to keep the weight at the end of the arm minimized. So when we consider the significant reduction in the amount of copper that has to go out to those end of arm devices, that's a great benefit of single pair ethernet in the robotics industry. There's a lot of great transportation applications for it. Rail industry is very conscious number one, of weight that's going into the rail cars, but also that 1 kilometer potential application to deliver an ethernet signal over long distances can also be a great advantage within the rail industry. Similarly, within aircraft applications, weight is huge and being able to reduce the amount of copper going into airplanes, that saves fuel, that saves the overall cost of flight.
And also on vehicle, cars are generally compact, they don't have quite as long of a distance. So being able to deliver gigabit data rates over 40 meters should work well. But they're also very conscious of the amount of weight and the amount of copper that's going in there 'cause that's going to affect gas mileage or even as we go to EV, let's say the amount of energy consumed from batteries.
So weight is another area of high consideration and high interest in the transportation industry overall. Building automation, they're using ethernet quite a bit. So similarly, by being able to put that power and that ethernet communication into that 1 data pair offers great potential for reducing costs, reducing the amount of wiring that's going to be used. But in some building applications, for example, perhaps in an elevator shaft where there might be longer distance required and maybe just category five communication required as well. Again, the long range potential of being able to implement 10 megabits or even higher up to one kilometer becomes very interesting for building automation.
Process industries, they're using a lot of legacy field buses such as (indistinct), going over very long distances. So when you think about petrochemical processing or pharmaceutical applications, very long range, very expansive implementations of automation. I would expect there would be a strong interest within that industry of getting onto an ethernet based automation and control system.
But they haven't had a good solution available to start looking at ethernet and getting out of those older legacy control systems. So this is another area of interest to take a look at with single pair ethernet and be having those conversations. And then finally I'd say material handling in e-commerce, when you look at these, the high proliferation and installation of conveyance systems, warehouse distribution systems, they can be very long, they can be very extensive.
Ethernet is commonly being used from controller to controller, and I would say also from the control systems up into the MES and the ERP systems. But along these conveyors there's a high propensity, a high usage of, again, older legacy control systems from those zone level controllers out to the power rollers that are driving the conveyor belts and moving the product down along the conveyors. So it'll commonly be a CAN bus or similar type of a system. Single pair ethernet gives us the opportunity to go from that zone controller to that power roller using an ethernet based system.
And I would expect there will be a high level of interest from those companies that make power rollers, zone controllers and that build and integrate these e-commerce distribution warehousing automated control systems as well. Wow, that's a lot of cases, Mark. I probably could have been easier if I asked you ones that weren't gonna be using single pair ethernet. Well, you know, Dale, just about everybody's using ethernet or they wanna get to ethernet. And you know, as we mentioned before, single pair ethernet provides again, that last meter opportunity to get those lingering devices that people have been wondering how will we ever get it on to ethernet. I think this opens the door to make it happen and to really be that last link in the ethernet based control systems.
Absolutely, Mark. So Dale, it's been great talking to you about this new technology. I see a great opportunity for the people at Mouser to be out engaging with their customers in all of these different industries that we've talked about. If we're to have, let's say, a call to action, I would say go out, talk to all of your customers that you know are using ethernet based communication. Talk to them about the advantages that single pair ethernet can deliver.
Reduced amounts of copper, in some cases higher bandwidth and higher data rates than they're able to get in the existing ethernet solutions that are out there. Being able to go longer distances with copper, getting a reduced footprint, smaller connectors, more data and more power through a smaller interface. These are all the advantages that single pair ethernet can deliver. So there it is. If you want to get connected, yeah, I did that on purpose, to the single pair ethernet experts and the great products from Molex and Mouser, go check them out today.
Thanks for joining us, Mark. It's been a great deal. Really appreciate the opportunity and we look forward to hearing from Mouser and talking to them and their customers about this great and exciting new technology.
It is very exciting. And as we wrap up today's Tech Chat, we do wanna thank our sponsor Mouser Electronics. So if you're looking to purchase any of the cables or connectors we've seen during today's presentation, I would encourage you to go over there to Mouser.com
and check out the great Molex products. And join us again next time on Tech Chat where we chat with the leading technical experts, like Mark Schuerman from leading companies like Molex are changing our world every day.