Green is good

Lower emissions often equate to greater efficiency-something the network infrastructure vendors are keen to point out to carriers looking to save money while growing their green credentials.


August 28, 2008

12 Min Read
Green is good
Green is good



Green Is Good

Lower emissions often equate to greater efficiency-something the network infrastructure vendors are keen to point out to carriers looking to save money while growing their green credentials.

With as much as 86 per cent of an operator’s carbon emissions coming from the power required to run its network, it should come as no surprise to find the infrastructure vendors promoting newer, more energy efficient solutions as a means of reducing not just the size of a carrier’s carbon footprint, but also the size of its opex.  Over the past year, the number of new infrastructure products coming to market promising the win-win of cost and carbon saving has been on the rise. With such a wide range of new solutions available, it can be tricky keeping tabs on which firms are doing (or promising) what. With this in mind, sister publication MCI approached each of the seven major global cellular infrastructure vendors (Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson, Huawei, Motorola, Nokia Siemens Networks, Nortel and ZTE) to see exactly how they’ve been playing their environmental hands. Some, noticeably, are doing rather more than others.

Alcatel Lucent has found the going tough recently with the ‘merger of equals’ yet to pay dividends. Environmentally, however, it is among the market leaders. Indeed, if the size of a firm’s annual CSR report was the key metric in deciding who claimed the green crown, Alcatel Lucent would be heading for a coronation.

Deeds need to match words though-and with Alcatel Lucent they do. In January this year the firm followed Ericsson’s lead, becoming the second of the big seven infrastructure vendors to sign the United Nations’ Caring for Climate initiative. Caring for Climate is a voluntary and complementary action platform. It is designed to “advance practical solutions and shape both public opinion and public policy, raising awareness that climate change is an issue requiring urgent and extensive action on the part of governments, business and citizens in order to avoid serious damage to global prosperity and safety.”

“Alcatel Lucent is committed to operating in a manner that protects the environment and the health and safety of employees, contractors, customers, and the communities where we conduct business,” says Caroline Guillaumin, VP corporate communications and CSR for Alcatel Lucent. “Besides, the company strives to design products that are safe and energy efficient.”

In February the firm announced the commissioning of its 200th radio site powered by solar energy. The site-including base station, microwave and all other electrical components-is completely powered by the sun, providing telecom services to remote communities on the remote Senegalese island of Bettenty and the surrounding Saloum islands that previously had no access to wireless communications services.  In a site like Bettenty, the low power consumption of the Alcatel Lucent GSM Base Station was critical in enabling the service provider to use solar power as the only source of energy for the cell site. The base station’s low power consumption means that only a few solar panels are required, making the site very affordable to deploy, the firm says.  In addition, Alcatel Lucent has launched two new 3G base station solutions this year that it claims offer enhanced energy efficiency.  The 9234 Base Station d2U Distributed is designed to support CDMA2000 1X and 1xEVDO Rev. A services, while the fanless 60-watt remote radio head node B as an expansion of Alcatel Lucent’s WCDMA/HSPA portfolio. Both offer 50 per cent power saving over earlier generation products, says the firm.  Alcatel Lucent’s credentials may be impressive but it has some very stiff competition in the form of Ericsson. The Swedish vendor is doing well in terms of contracts signed over the last 12 months and it is no slouch environmentally.

It too produces a hefty corporate responsibility report and its environmental management system, certified to ISO 14001, has been in operation since 2001.Ericsson has a range of ‘environmentally friendly’ products. One recently introduced feature, Base Transceiver Station Power Savings, reduces energy consumption in mobile networks during low traffic periods by putting the radio resources of the network that are not being used into standby mode.  Depending on network traffic patterns, the feature can reduce energy consumption by up to 25 per cent in the radio access network, the firm says. The new technology amounts to a software upgrade and is compatible with all previously installed Ericsson GSM base stations. Vodafone Germany became the first operator to use the BTS Power Savings feature, in December 2007.

Ericsson calculates that if the installed base of Ericsson GSM base stations had this feature, CO2 emissions would be reduced by one million tonnes per year-the equivalent emissions of 330,000 cars each travelling 16,000km per year.Looking beyond purely operational carbon costs, the Ericsson Tower Tube is a concrete tower that has a lower environmental impact than traditional steel, consuming up to 40 per cent less power from a life cycle perspective.  This is because concrete results in less energy consumption and CO2 emission than steel during production and transport. In addition, operation feeder losses are substantially reduced, and no active cooling is needed.

Ericsson has also developed a hybrid energy solution where a battery replaces one of the two diesel generators ordinarily employed for remote or off-grid sites. The batteries used can handle a large amount of charges and discharges. This self-contained power solution, controlled by the Ericsson RBS, can lead to 50 per cent reduction in energy-related costs, says the firm.  Celtel Uganda is the first operator to install this solution. Around 50 per cent of all the operator’s RBS sites in Uganda run on diesel continuously, with each one typically consuming about 20,000 litres of diesel annually.  Celtel plans to convert all of these to Ericsson’s hybrid energy solution, which will not only halve its diesel fuel bills, but also provide additional savings through reduced fuel delivery and maintenance requirements.  One might expect the established Western players to have thorough environmental strategies.  But what about the more recent arrivals on the cellular equipment provider stage? One firm that has been gaining significant ground on its Western rivals thanks in part to competitive pricing is Huawei. The Chinese firm has a dedicated, but relatively small, section on its website extolling its environmental virtues.

Huawei says it has been engaged in the research and development of environmentally friendly products for several years and emphasises the importance of eco-design from concept development to product launch. However, there are few specifically ‘green’ products listed.

That said, the firm launched a solution earlier this year that it promises can reduce base station power consumption by up to 60 per cent. The Green Site Solution adopts power amplifier technologies that boost the power efficiency of base stations by 45 per cent, reducing the overall power consumption of the facilities. It also uses a distributed architecture that allows 20W base stations to have the same output frequency coverage as traditional 40W base stations and high efficiency power amplifier technologies that make convection cooling, direct cooling, and intelligent cooling technology in a base station possible. This reduces the need for air conditioners that cause noise pollution and helps to reduce a base station’s electricity consumption to less than 500W.

In the US, meanwhile, Motorola has taken a slightly different tack. The firm produces a lengthy annual CR report, though the environmental aspects tend to focus largely on its handsets strategy. The report does make mention of an alternative power project carried out by the firm in Namibia.

A power system for remote base stations developed by Motorola Labs engineers draws on both wind and solar energy to generate 1,200 continuous watts of electrical power-enough to drive a mid-sized cell and support a microwave backhaul installation, serving an operational radius of up to 120km.

Wind and solar-powered base stations require very low maintenance-an important advantage in regions where travel is difficult.  In developed countries, they can help reduce carbon emissions while providing insurance against the 30 to 40 per cent increase in electricity prices expected over the coming years. Operators may even be able to sell the extra power they generate to the local power company to help offset operating costs.  After extensive testing and refinement at its Swindon, UK site in 2005 and 2006, the first commercial installation of this wind/solar technology is now live. It’s powering a cellular base station operated by MTC, which serves the Dordabis village in Namibia, Africa.  The Namibian installation features a four panel solar array measuring 3m x 6m, tilted 26 degrees to the north in order to maximise solar output. The wind turbine adds up to 6,000 watts of power, and the combined energy is stored in a bank of deep-discharge lead-acid batteries designed to last up to three years before requiring replacement.

One of the other front-runners in the environmental race, Nokia Siemens Networks, produces a sizable CR report. When considering environmental impact, NSN claims to look at the whole lifecycle of a product: from manufacturing to use to end-of-life. This includes everything from energy used in the firm’s offices, how it packages and delivers its products to what kind of cars its employees drive. NSN has put its key focus on reducing the CO2 emissions of its equipment during their use time, as this is where 95 per cent of its CO2 emissions originate.

NSN may not have signed the UN’s Caring for Climate initiative but it has made a number of hard hitting public pledges for reducing its environmental impact. First up it will reduce the energy consumption of typical GSM (2G) RBS by 20 per cent by 2010 from the 2007 level of 800W. It plans to reduce the energy consumption of typical WCDMA (3G) RBS by 40 per cent by 2010 from end-2007 level of 500W. It hopes to reduce the energy consumption by 29 per cent per ADSL line by 2009 from the 2007 level to meet the Broadband Code of Conduct. With ADSL low power mode, additional 30 per cent savings are possible.  It will reduce the energy consumption by 49 per cent per VDSL line by 2009 from the 2007 level and target to meet the Broadband Code of Conduct. And finally, it plans to reduce its own energy use by six per cent by 2012, exceeding the official EU target of five per cent and use 25 per cent renewable energy in company operations by 2009, increasing up to 50 per cent by the end of 2010.

In June 2008 NSN became a Member of WWF Climate Savers and committed to improve the energy efficiency of its base station products so that the equivalent total annual CO2 footprint will decrease by 28 per cent by 2012, compared to 2007 best product performance and to decrease energy consumption of its buildings by six per cent by 2012. The resulting avoided emissions amount to approximately two million tonnes of CO2 annually.

In terms of practical examples, Thai telecoms service provider DTAC has taken huge steps towards building an efficient and environmentally sustainable mobile network, as it recently received the first of 1,500 Flexi EDGE base stations from NSN. The Flexi Base Station technology enables operators to minimise the number of base station sites and the need for air conditioning at the sites. Moreover, the solution enables operators to deploy software features to optimise the use of radio access for wireless communications. All these benefits not only result in a more environmentally friendly network operation, but also lower operating and capital costs for operators.Rolf Marthinusen, CTO, DTAC, says: “As a responsible corporation, we need to be conscious of the environment in which we operate and do our best in adopting green solutions, where possible.  Nokia Siemens Networks solutions based on the Flexi Base Station let us reduce adverse effects on the environment, while providing a cost efficient high performing network.”

Meanwhile, Slovenia mobile operator Tusmobil, signed an agreement to expand its network by deploying 400 ‘environmentally friendly’ base stations and expanding as well as optimising the operator’s core network with an NSN mobile switching solution.

The Flexi Base station gives power savings at site of over 60 per cent, compared to traditional 3G equipment, and allows for a reduction of the number of sites required to provide the improved services by over 25 per cent. The NSN MSC Server softswitch solution, based on 3GPP Release 4, allows operators to boost switching capacity with savings of up to 70 per cent in operating expenses.  If NSN’s environmental approach is proactively enlightened, Canadian vendor Nortel is decidedly pedestrian. Its Corporate Citizen report is light on detail and the vendor has taken a slightly different approach to others as the pressure on going green is mounting within the industry. It has a tool, called the Energy Efficiency Calculator, that provides a like-for-like comparison between Nortel and Cisco’s LAN and WAN equipment. Not surprisingly, the calculator favours Nortel products.

China’s other rising star, ZTE, pays some lip service to environmental issues online as part of its corporate citizenship statement. In May this year the firm announced the launch of the DSLAM ZXDSL FSAP 9806H Broadband Universal Access System. The network device offers up to 96 ADSL2+ lines or 64 VDSL2 lines in a 2U rack. By equipping its DSLAM solution with a passive optical network uplink card, ZTE has reduced the amount of fibre required-when compared to traditional, point-to-point Ethernet network-allowing operators to serve multiple premises using a single optical fibre cable achieving substantial cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint.

It would be unfair to single out a poor performer from the material presented. However, it’s fairly clear that Alcatel Lucent, Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks lead the pack in terms of environmental products and commitments.

A growing desire among consumers to live their lives in a more ‘environmentally friendly’ fashion will not have escaped the network carriers’ attention. In reality though, we’re a long way from the day when mobile users make purchasing decisions based on the network power consumption required to terminate their calls. If we’re being brutally honest, saving the environment comes a distant second to saving money. Fortunately the two are not mutually exclusive. When it comes to networks, green is good.

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