If they deployed certain technologies and algorithms, telcos and service providers can trim their network power consumption by up to 90 percent.
Citing research it released today, GreenTouch identified models based on communications network protocols, architectures and technologies it said could slash energy consumption by up to 90 percent. It measures energy efficiency as the ratio of useful traffic transmitted by a network and total energy required to support that traffic over a year.
It added that mobile networks would benefit most from energy-efficient initiative as they were the most inefficient but fastest-growing networks today in terms of data volumes. Mobile networks could tap potential improvements of up to 1,043 times, GreenTouch said.
The research evaluated various types of networks, comparing them to architectures from 2010 against those that adopted protocols and technologies touted by the global consortium to improve network energy efficiency.
Set up in 2010 by Alcatel-Lucent, GreenTouch's 53 members comprise various sectors such as telcos, network equipment makers, academic research labs, and government agencies, including China Mobile, Huawei, Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, and ZTE. By 2015, the consortium aims to offer topologies, protocols and technologies that can help increase network energy efficiency by 1,000, compared to stats in 2010.
Speaking to ZDNet in a phone interview, Ric Clark, Asia-Pacific vice president of business strategies at Alcatel-Lucent, said networks are growing exponentially to support increasing mobile adoption and usage.
In addition, more are heading toward cloud services and applications. Left unchecked, this expanding cloud adoption would become a major contributor to network capacity, specifically, for data centers, said Shanghai-based Clark, who is an advisory committee member in one of GreenTouch's research units.
He added that GreenTouch research indicated data centers should be optimized for better power consumption. However, he noted that the majority of people accessing the cloud did so via wireless networks, so it would be more impactful to analyze and improve energy efficiencies in wireless networks.
"Most mobile networks have been built first to provide coverage, maximize consumer base, and then build out capacity. That itself can cause compromise in the way networks work," Clark said.
Telcos worldwide are setting targets to reduce energy consumption not just as part of corporate social responsibility efforts, but also to manage cost, he added.
According to GreenTouch, networks account for about 75 percent of operators' overall electricity bills. In mature countries, energy contributes on average 7 percent of an operator's operating costs. In emerging nations, this spikes to 20 percent.
Clark noted telcos and service providers in Asia-Pacific faced the same cost pressures, especially in countries where quality power grids may not always be available. In India, for instance, many service providers rely on backup generators to ensure their networks remain up and running, spending a third of their budget on diesel fuel. He added that almost half is spent on air-conditioning.
"So looking at things like ambient cooling becomes particularly relevant [for markets like India]. Some of the energy efficient techniques like small cell address that," he explained, noting that small cell systems can cool themselves and do not generate much power because they are small.
The GreenTouch research adopted advanced modeling to simulate potential network operations in 2020, with considerations for significant spikes in communications traffic over the next 10 years. It used forecasting and trend projections, analytical calculations, and network simulations, and looked at potential energy efficiency improvements and energy reductions. Its calculations are based on what it has identified as best practices, network topologies and protocols.
The findings will be made available to service providers, according to the consortium.
Clark said: "What we're announcing today is a more coherent model that demonstrates, via a range of initiatives incorporated in the network, you can achieve that target of reducing power by 1,000 times.
"The model takes all these initiatives on a customer-by-customer and network-by-network basis. Operators can then, based on their current network technology, ambitions around growth, and network reengineering, identify what are the most important steps to take to reduce energy consumption. So it's a guide for service providers."
Recommended initiatives include small-cell networks in dense urban environments, discontinuous transmissions during non-traffic intervals, and GreenTouch's own Bit Interleaved Passive Optical Network (Bi-PON) protocol.
According to Clark, the total cost of ownership of small-cell network system is up to 50 percent lower than a traditional macro network deployment. The former consumes less power, does not require cooling, and takes up less real estate, he said.
He also pointed to large scale antenna system which he said optimized the use of antennas, hence, consuming less energy. This network architecture packs more antennas together and selectively focuses--instead of broadcasts--radio signals toward targeted users. "You can be more selective in where you're transmitting data and focus the radio energy toward an end-user, rather than broadcast which uses more power," Clark said.