What are PoE Security Cameras? An In-Depth Guide

July 29, 2021

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Key Takeaways

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is a way to power security cameras using an Ethernet cable. Because the cable provides network access in addition to power, the cable does double-duty. This guide explains what PoE security cameras are, why they’re beneficial, and what features to look for when evaluating PoE security camera systems.

With video technology already ubiquitous,  it’s no surprise that commercial security camera systems are also on the rise. Once used mainly for security purposes, worksite cameras now can help with various aspects of operations, including safety and process workflows, in addition to security monitoring.

We’ve come a long way from grainy, pixelated camera footage. Today’s power over Ethernet (PoE) camera systems are a powerful, reliable, and cost-effective solution for companies and organizations looking to streamline their video security systems as much as possible.

This guide will discuss what PoE security camera systems are and how they differ from other systems. We’ll also show you features to look for when evaluating systems and discuss the key benefits of these solutions.

What are PoE security cameras?

Let’s break down what a PoE security camera is and how it works. 

PoE stands for power over Ethernet. PoE is a system used for carrying electric power and data over copper Ethernet cabling—meaning just one cable is needed per camera. If you have hundreds or thousands of cameras, PoE can help reduce the complexity of installation and allow for more flexible camera placement since there is no need for separate power cords or outlets.

The security cameras receiving power from PoE technology are internet protocol (IP) cameras. These digital video cameras send and receive data over the internet, like a webcam. But, unlike basic webcams, IP cameras have standalone IP addresses. You connect them to networks like you would computers and printers. 

Not every IP camera is a PoE camera. Some IP cameras need to be plugged into wall outlets. PoE only describes how certain IP cameras receive power. 

What is the difference between PoE and other types of security camera systems?

Different types of video surveillance systems function in different ways. The difference between systems comes down to the devices used and the type of cabling required. Here’s a brief overview of the different kinds of security camera systems:

  • Analog camera systems were once the industry standard. Think CCTV cameras made famous on crime dramas. These surveillance cameras connect to a digital video recorder (DVR), which processes images. They need two cables: one for the power source and one for the DVR—usually via a coaxial cable. Analog cameras are still around today; however, most users prefer the newer technology found in IP cameras, including better video quality.

  • WiFi camera systems use wireless cameras that transmit or stream footage to a cloud-based server. As the name implies, WiFi systems are wireless, often using cameras powered by battery or solar power for the most flexibility. Many home security systems operate via WiFi, such as video doorbell cameras.

  • IP camera systems use wired internet protocol (IP) cameras to send video feeds to a network video recorder (NVR), which records and stores footage. Considered more powerful and reliable than WiFi systems, many business and industrial operations use IP security camera systems. 

  • PoE camera systems are IP camera systems—the only difference is that they use PoE cameras specifically. PoE cameras are a type of IP camera that can use a single Ethernet cable for both network access and electric power. This means just one cable is needed per camera, which increases the simplicity and flexibility of installation.

How a PoE security camera system works

PoE camera systems only need a few things to get up and running: PoE cameras, a PoE NVR, Ethernet cables, such as Cat 5 or Cat 6, and a network PoE switch. In analog camera setups, the cameras transmit video, and the DVR encodes and processes the video for viewing. IP cameras are the opposite. Instead, they do the heavy-lifting by processing images and then streaming it to the NVR, where it’s stored or viewed elsewhere. 

Simply connect a camera to an on-premise network PoE switch with an Ethernet cable, and plug the NVR into a network switch. Network switches come with multiple PoE ports, enabling you to set up and power four or more cameras from one device. PoE camera systems reduce cabling and streamline operations.

To view video footage, you have several options. For example, you can connect a monitor directly to an on-premise NVR using a VGA or HDMI cable and a mouse via a USB port. Or, for remote viewing, you need to connect your NVR to the internet via a network router. Many of today’s NVRs also have WiFi support built-in, so you can easily connect the NVR to your existing WiFi network.

If you have a cloud-based NVR (also sometimes called a network gateway), you can connect multiple cameras to a PoE switch or injector to distribute power and network connections. Then, you activate and connect your cameras and gateway through cloud-based software. Using viewing software, video management software (VMS), or mobile apps on Apple or Android devices, you can access and stream video feeds from anywhere.

What are the benefits of a PoE security camera system?

PoE security camera systems offer businesses and organizations many benefits. They often incorporate the newest technologies, providing a feature-rich system. Thanks to simpler cabling, they offer more flexibility than their analog counterparts but are also more robust due to IP PoE cameras’ capabilities. Here are some of the benefits of a PoE security camera system:

High-quality footage

PoE security camera systems provide higher quality video than analog camera systems. This is because digital cameras offer much higher resolutions. The highest resolution that analog cameras offer is 720 x 480 pixels. Contrast that with digital cameras, which start at 1280 x 1024 pixels (1.3 megapixels), and you can understand how much clearer videos are.

PoE IP cameras capture more video site ranges, including narrow or wide fields of vision. They also have better zoom capabilities. And because IP cameras send digital signals, they offer better video details. Higher-quality footage helps when analyzing on-site activities or zooming into license plate numbers. Overall, PoE security camera systems allow for high resolution and fast transmission—without compromising network bandwidth.


Aside from video quality, one of the biggest drawbacks to analog camera systems is the cables required for operation. One cable is used for power, and another is used for network access. With PoE security camera systems, you’re using the same cable for both power and network access. You’re not limited to installing a camera near an electrical outlet, making it possible for you to scale your system faster. When you want to take the camera down or move it, you can simply move the Ethernet cable.

With a PoE security camera system, you’re also not bound by the coaxial cables used in analog security camera systems. Coaxial cables are wider than Ethernet cables and more rigid, making an analog system more difficult to deploy and less flexible. 


Why not use a wireless surveillance system and be completely wire-free, like some home security cameras? Simply put, PoE security camera systems are more reliable and less susceptible to interrupted feeds. PoE power comes from a central power source rather than a collection of wall adapters or a battery. PoE systems can be backed up by an uninterruptible power supply, ensuring your cameras will still work in case of an outage.

What features should you look for in a PoE security camera system?

With so many PoE security camera systems on the market, it can be challenging to decide which system fits your needs best. When choosing a solution, look for these key features.

High definition (HD) video quality

When reviewing video footage, crisp video quality is critical. Look for super HD PoE cameras, so recordings are clear. Also, check if the camera offers features like wide dynamic range (WDR). This feature optimizes video for bright and dark conditions. To capture broad viewing angles, look for a wide-angle or semi-wide angle lens. 

Night visibility

In 2020, commercial property crime rose 37% across the U.S. While residential break-ins tend to happen during the day when owners are not home, burglaries and vandalism hit non-residential spaces at night. Monitoring unusual activity after work hours means capturing high-quality footage during low-light conditions. Do the cameras have night vision capabilities? For example, does the solution have an infrared (IR) illuminator? This tool creates infrared light and functions as a flashlight for cameras, helping ensure high-quality video capture at night.

Remote access

You may have a worksite that is expansive or a remote site that you want real-time visibility into. If you want the convenience of viewing video on the go, look for a cloud NVR rather than an on-premise NVR. With cloud-hosted footage, managers can access all cameras and footage 24/7, from anywhere. 

Easy installation and setup

Deploying and scaling any security camera system is no easy feat, especially if you have hundreds or thousands of cameras across multiple locations. Choosing a PoE security camera system that’s easy to install is very important. By nature, PoE indoor/outdoor cameras are simple enough to install DIY-style since they only need one cable to connect with a PoE switch or injector. In addition, with some cloud-based security solutions, activation of your hardware is as simple as entering a serial number into cloud software.

Intelligent video management system (IVMS)

A video management system (VMS) provides an interface for users to interact with video footage, camera integrations, analytics, gateways, storage infrastructure, and more. When choosing your PoE security camera system, check if the vendor offers an intelligent video management system (IVMS). An IVMS offers more advanced features to help users increase efficiency and get more value out of their system. 

Look for an IVMS that offers advanced artificial intelligence (AI) features such as motion detection, and the ability to configure real-time alerts based on motion, people, or inactivity. AI-driven search tools—which make it possible to search camera streams by date, time, people detected, and more—can help you find important footage faster and streamline incident investigation.

What is the best PoE security camera system?

Samsara’s Site Visibility solution is ideal for organizations of all sizes that are looking to improve onsite operations and visibility. The cloud-NVR can connect to third-party PoE cameras, overlaying powerful AI and consolidating streams from across locations into a single dashboard.

Get to know Site Visibility

Site Visibility is an intelligent, cloud-connected security solution that uses AI and computer vision to improve on-site operations. The bandwidth-friendly cloud-NVR connects third-party IP cameras to an AI-powered video management system so customers can gain granular visibility across all of their locations to streamline and simplify their daily operations.

Site Visibility’s hardware highlights

The Samsara Site Gateway is the powerhouse for a PoE security camera system. The plug-and-play cloud NVR hardware connects to our analytical engine, adding robust, real-time detections and AI features to any IP camera solution. Once installed, the gateway can connect up to 25  third-party cameras to the cloud and can monitor 30+ days of uninterrupted footage with minimal bandwidth utilization.

Built on a hybrid-cloud architecture, the Site Gateway records and stores footage for 30 days. You're able to save specific video clips to the cloud or download footage to a hard drive for coaching or incident review. Plus, it only streams video footage to the cloud when someone is actively viewing a stream remotely, allowing the Site Gateway to be a bandwidth-conscious system.  

Try Samsara’s PoE security camera solution for free

Samsara’s Site Visibility solution is a reliable, flexible PoE security camera system that captures high-quality footage. Our cloud NVR allows customers remote access to footage anytime, from anywhere. Our intelligent VMS offering brings powerful AI to any third-party IP security camera for enhanced worksite visibility. Search for specific incidents faster and spend less time monitoring footage using intelligent detections and alerting. With Samsara’s Site Visibility solution, you can:

  • Monitor all locations remotely with cloud-based technology.

  • Gain actionable insights with AI-enhanced camera streams. 

  • Use intelligent search tools to spend less time investigating incidents.

  • Integrate existing, third-party camera infrastructure.

  • Track your fleet, equipment, sites, and more via a single dashboard via Samsara’s Connected Operations Platform.

Looking to learn more about how Samsara can benefit your on-site operations? Get in touch with our team today to learn more or get a free trial.

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