Save power, save the planet

18 Aug 2008

Blame it on the weather, or credit it to Al Gore's traveling slide show and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but either way the telecoms sector - like many other industries - has developed an eco-conscience. With the news increasingly dominated by stories about climate change and efforts by various governments and organizations to reduce carbon footprints, going green is fast becoming a valuable marketing tool for telecoms/IT vendors and operators alike, whether by putting an emphasis on recycling, sustainable energy and reducing carbon output, or helping their customers to do the same.

Which isn't to say that the telecoms industry has been thumbing its nose at environmental issues up to now. Various companies have been developing ways to run cleaner telecoms networks at least several years before An Inconvenient Truth entered the public eye. But in recent months it's the industry organizations that have been stepping up to the plate. In June, the US-based Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) announced a series of green initiatives such as databases to help telecoms companies comply with environmental regulations worldwide and recycle old equipment.

One month later, the International Telecommunication Union set up a new group to develop standards related to the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on climate change, with a focus on reducing ICT emissions and looking at ways the same technology can be harnessed to help other industry sectors such as energy, transportation and buildings do likewise. The ITU says that ICT could help 'cut global emissions by between 15 to 40%', although this depends on the methodology used to calculate these estimates (which is why a key objective of the group will be to develop internationally agreed methodologies to calculate ICT's effectiveness in emission reduction).

The wireless sector in particular has arguably taken a lead in the quest for green technology. Since at least 2006, the GSM Association has spent a lot of money and time working with vendors and operators to develop base stations running on alternate energy sources such as wind turbines, solar panels and biofuels.

But the main activity for green technology in the wireless sector has been in the area of reducing power consumption, a key contributor to reducing one's carbon footprint. According to ABI Research, infrastructure vendors have been leveraging techniques such as hardware integration, the use of remote radio heads, and software-based solutions that provide dynamic network dimensioning to cut power consumption in base stations. Those efforts alone could reduce average base station power consumption by 43% by 2013, ABI reckons.

Ironically, the push for power efficiency in wireless networks isn't being driven by environmental concerns, but by economics. For many operators, the single biggest chunk of their opex comes from their base station electric bills, and with ARPUs for voice and SMS starting to decline - to say nothing of the rising cost of energy - wireless operators are under pressure to cut costs where they can, says ABI Research vice president Stuart Carlaw.

'Although reducing power consumption provides good ecological credentials for carriers and vendors alike, the real driver for improving power consumption is financial,' he says. 'It is imperative that carriers do everything possible to negate rising energy costs in an environment where network traffic and ARPUs are diverging.'

Emerging markets lead

This is especially the case in emerging markets, where cellcos have already learned to turn a profit on low ARPUs, but face the same market pressures under which ARPUs are hard enough to raise even when you're not trying to offset rising opex costs,

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