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Business VoIP Phones: Guide to Power over Ethernet and Port Speeds

by Kevin Bartley

Features like Power over Ethernet (PoE) and port speeds affect the VoIP or ethernet phone in your office. Here’s what they are and how they work.

Looking for a VoIP phone? You may have skipped over features like Ethernet speeds and Power over Ethernet (PoE) support. But they can be important features that help determine the deployment of your phone system, the cost of your networking setup and other considerations.

Both features are related to the Ethernet port on your VoIP phone. Let’s take a look at what these features are, why you should care and how they work.

Ethernet Speed: 10 Mbps vs. 100 Mbps vs. 1000 Mbps

From video streaming to video calls, most of the online activities you enjoy see their quality affected by internet speeds. For the most part, that’s the speed the internet travels from your ISP to your modem. Nowadays, internet speed typically varies between 100 Mbps and 1 Gigabit (1000 Mbps).

There is a flip side to that, however, and that’s Ethernet speed. Those Ethernet ports on the back of your modem or router have to be able to get the internet to other devices, like a PC, another modem or router, a game console, streaming box, or even a VoIP phone. The Ethernet speed affects how much of that internet speed carries over to the device.

Most VoIP phones today have Ethernet ports that support 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and even 1000 Mbps. 10 Mbps is usually on older models, 100 Mbps is used on entry- and mid-range phones, and 1000 Mbps is available on mid-range and executive class phones.

10 Mbps

The good news is that for hosted VoIP calls, you don’t need that much speed. The average VoIP call takes up about 100 Kbps, which is a tenth of 1 Mbps. For reference, 10 Mbps is enough speed to set up a 100-person call center.

So if 0.1 Mbps is enough for a single VoIP call, why does a phone’s Ethernet port support higher speeds like 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps? The answer is that technology is always progressing.

Internet speeds have soared well past 10 Mbps, which means that Ethernet speeds need to keep up. As manufacturers design and mass produce Ethernet ports and cables capable of higher speeds, less resources go toward making ports supporting older ports.

A phone manufacturer isn’t going to try to keep buying 10 Mbps ports if the market is flooded with affordable 100 Mbps ports and 10 Mbps are harder to find.

Additionally, if your phone has any advanced features like video calling or apps, 10 Mbps is too slow to properly take advantage of them. You also may see issues if you decide to use your VoIP phone as a network switch. Some VoIP phones allow you to “pass” their internet connection off to a different device, acting as a bridge.

Ethernet cable on the back of a VoIP phone

100 Mbps

The next step up is 100 Mbps. For VoIP phones, this is the speed you’ll see most often.

Thus, 100 Mbps Ethernet cables, routers, switches, and other network hardware support it and are readily available. If you want to use your VoIP phone as an internet bridge, this is a much safer option. 100 Mbps will allow you to use apps, video streaming, calls and more without major disruptions.

However, 100 Mbps is not long for this world, thanks to the next step up.

1000 Mbps (1 Gigabit)

The new standard. A gigabit Ethernet port is 10 times faster than 100 Mbps. As internet speeds left 100 Mbps in the dust, moving to speeds between 500 Mbps and a Gigabit, more and more companies moved to 1000 Mbps products.

In fact, if you were to search for an Ethernet cable right now, the most common option would be a Cat6 cable, which supports speeds up to 1000 Mbps (aka 1 Gigabit). You probably already have an Ethernet cable capable of this speed, since they are commonly bundled with phones, routers, modems, and game consoles.

VoIP phones with Gigabit Ethernet can be great network switches, providing good speed to other devices. Gigabit ports are also compatible with 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps ports, so you won’t have to worry about bad performance.

What’s 10 Gbps? (10 Gigabit)

The next standard. Currently, 10 Gbps Ethernet ports are mostly used in data centers. These are places that need to transfer lots of information very quickly, and are primarily used by enterprise and certain small businesses.

However, as internet speeds move past 1 Gbps, 10 Gbps Ethernet ports will become more commonplace to accommodate our new normal.

What Ethernet Speed Does My Phone Need?

You’re not likely to find 10 Mbps network ports, switches or even cables these days. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense to look for them either. If a device has a 10 Mbps port, that’s a sign it’s outdated and you should look at more modern options.

VoIP Ethernet phones with 100 Mbps ports and, increasingly, Gigabit ports, are the de facto standard for the industry. The calling experience won’t vary too much between the two, but if you’re worried about future-proofing your phone system, a Gigabit-capable phone is likely a safer choice.

If you can get a Gigabit phone at a good price, it might make sense to purchase it rather than a 100 Mbps phone, especially if you plan on using apps, games, video calls, and other web-based services. However, if the Gigabit phone is significantly more expensive, you'd basically just be paying more money to have the same calling experience.

Picture of a businessman talking on a VoIP phone

Power over Ethernet: PoE vs PoE+

Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows you to power your device with an Ethernet cable instead of a separate A/C adapter. It works by having a router or similar device add a tiny electrical current to an Ethernet cable. The current travels through the cable, hits a PoE-enabled Ethernet port on, say a VoIP phone, and the device is powered on.

The point of Power over Ethernet is to eliminate separate power supplies and make setup easier. There are two types of Power over Ethernet: PoE and PoE+. PoE was the original technology, while PoE+ is a more powerful version developed later. PoE and PoE+ both:

  • Eliminate the need for separate power and data cables
  • Allow you to install PoE/PoE+ devices anywhere, without a power outlet, as long as the cables reach
  • Save on installation, maintenance, and energy costs
  • Enable power-saving and on/off controls from remote devices
  • Make it easier to perform power cycling (turning a device on and off remotely)
  • Make it easier to perform diagnostics and status reporting on power used by devices

The biggest difference between PoE and PoE+ is how much power they provide. PoE can deliver a max of 15.4 watts while PoE+ can deliver a max of 30 watts. You’ll find PoE+ in larger devices that need more power to operate. For VoIP phones, PoE has enough juice.

PoE+ is backward compatible, which means that PoE devices can be powered by PoE+ devices.

Do I Need a Power over Ethernet Phone?

Not all phones support PoE, but it can be a useful feature to have if you’re tired of clutter and want to consolidate how many devices you plug into a power strip. The only thing you’re going to want to consider is whether your router or network device supports PoE or PoE+ and buy the appropriate phone.

Harness Ethernet for Better Business VoIP

Ethernet speeds and PoE support can affect your VoIP experience no matter what business you manage. Ethernet speeds can provide better quality and more options for advanced features, while PoE can help you keep things tidy.

It may seem like a small consideration, but a series of small decisions can pay big dividends down the road. It can affect how your hardware is deployed and the phone service you experience. It can even make setting up your phone system easier. If you’re shopping for an Ethernet phone and are looking for more in-depth reviews on leading VoIP phone models, check out our phone reviews page.

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