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Wireless Internet is costing the 'EARTH'

20 September 2012

Our insatiable desire for data on the move is beginning to have quite an impact in terms of network energy consumption.

As we stand on the threshold of a fully wireless society, the energy consumption of the Future Internet looks set to spiral enormously. According to the European Commission’s CONNECT programme, wireless Internet traffic is set not only to continue to grow exponentially but also to exceed traffic from fixed networks in just three years time.

This growth in power-hungry wireless traffic could lead to a massive upsurge in the energy consumption of mobile networks, unless urgent action is taken.

In an attempt to ward off such an eventuality, and ensure that the greater mobility and versatility of 4G mobile devices does not cost the Earth, the EU-funded ‘Energy Aware Radio and Network Technologies’ (EARTH) project has developed methods that could reduce the energy consumption of mobile networks by as much as 70 percent.

While computer technology has generally become more efficient in terms of the energy required to process a given amount of data, wireless networking and our insatiable hunger for data-rich content means that the ICT sector currently represents some 8 percent of the EU’s electricity consumption and almost 2 percent of its carbon footprint, according to a recent Europe-wide study.

Alcatel Lucent’s Bell Laboratories' Dietrich Zeller, who is coordinating this collaborative research endeavour, says access to the 'Future Internet' will be dominated by wireless devices, and the resulting explosive traffic growth will challenge the sustainability of mobile networks.

“When we kicked off the EARTH project two years ago with the ambitious goal of reducing the power consumption of mobile networks by 50 percent we could not be sure that we would be able to reach this goal,” he says. “Now, 30 months later, we can state categorically that we have surpassed all expectations. EARTH has provided hardware, network management and deployment solutions for mobile infrastructure, yielding together more than 70 percent energy savings.”

EARTH has developed techniques to boost the energy efficiency of 4G base stations, which are the most energy-intensive components of a mobile network. One approach is to model an individual base station’s power consumption as a function of load and radio conditions, which it then maps on an overview of different deployment areas.

In order to achieve savings, EARTH exploits the fact that traffic demand differs in terms of time and place and then adapts the network and radio interface (eg bandwidth) – and thus energy efficiency – to the required traffic load in any given location, following the changes over time.

But these ideas are not confined to the desktop. EARTH’s methodologies are already on their way to seeing the light of day, with key components of the system already integrated into hardware and software prototypes, which are currently undergoing validation testing at Telecom Italia’s test plant in Turin.

UK broadband
The economies of ten cities around the country are set to get a boost with the announcement on Thursday (September 20) of how much they will share from a £114m broadband pot, announced in the last budget. Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who explained how the money was to be distributed, envisages ‘super-connected cities’ with access to ultrafast broadband (at least 80-100Mbps) and well as high speed wireless Internet.

The ten cities and their respective allocations are: Belfast (£13.7m); Birmingham (£10m); Bristol (£11.3m); Cardiff (£11m); Edinburgh (£10.7m); Leeds & Bradford (joint bid: £14.4m); London (£25m); Manchester (£12m), and Newcastle (£6m).

The ten cities’ plans include taking ultrafast broadband access to around an extra 230,000 residential and 55,000 business premises, as well as high speed wireless to a broader catchment. All the plans are promised for delivery by 2015. Also foreshadowed in the Budget, a further £50m is to be shared among ten smaller cities.

Andrew Ferguson, who edits the website, believes the £14m additional boost in funding for the ten largest cities will be at the expense of other projects. The announcement by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) indicates that the total investment up until 2015 of £830m has not changed (£530m for local authority Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) projects; £100m for ten super connected cities - now £114m; £50m for ten smaller cities broadband projects, and £150m for mobile coverage in rural areas).

So the question posed by Mr Ferguson is: which of the three other projects will end up being short by £14m? The BDUK projects, when they apportioned their original funding in August 2011, had some £100m remaining as contingency fund, and extra funding as councils double check the BDUK figures for households has reduced this already. The £50m for the ten smaller cities will see the increase in funding for the largest cities and increase pressure for that fund to probably increase, says Mr Ferguson.

DCMS talks of 230,000 residential and 55,000 business premises gaining ultra fast broadband, but at this stage it is not clear if this is a 'premises passed' or 'premises connected' target figure, Mr Ferguson points out. The issue of high speed wireless coverage in these cities is, to some extent, muted already by EE's launch earlier in September of 4G.

Les Hunt

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