Green initiative series: the path to greener connectivity

To achieve emissions reduction targets operators must modify existing networks using open and disaggregated solutions. Let's talk through the options
Mickie Smith

Energy use and costs for telecom operators have traditionally been high and are expected to continue to increase. This growth is predominantly a result of the exponential increase in traffic demands and broadband needs of consumers.

Reducing costs should be an obvious goal for telecom operators. However, reducing emissions related to increasing energy use is also becoming an essential mission for many. The impact of not being viewed as an environmentally conscious organization includes the possibility of stricter regulation, the inability to offset emissions with expensive carbon credits, and the changing appetite of institutional investors to focus on greener companies could make it difficult for companies that are not “green” to succeed.

Fiber is GREEN

Green House Gas (GHG) Protocol published by CDP classifies a company's GHG emissions into three Scopes – 1, 2, and 3. Scope 1 and 2 emissions typically account for between 15-30% of total emissions attributed to an organization and represent about 5% of an operators' overall operating expenditures. But the figure can be as high as 15% for operators focused on mobile services, which are more energy-intensive.

Scope 2 emissions are within an organization's control, so they will be expected to be controlled, monitored, and prioritized ahead of other emissions. A large portion of Scope 2 emissions are from the generation of purchased energy used to power access and aggregation networks. The ability to reduce Scope 2 emissions rests entirely on the energy- and emission-efficiency of these networks.

Fiber-based solutions, relative to Copper and HFC-based solutions, are best suited to meet the growing bandwidth needs of consumers. They also consume the least power and have a much smaller carbon footprint in emissions released.

In a recent study, Prysmian compared the power consumption at the access network across VDSL2 Vectoring, Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial (HFC), and Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technologies. The study showed that the power consumption of the HFC and VDSL2 vectoring access networks is 7.5 times that of the FTTH Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) access network.

Even among Passive Optical Network (PON) technologies, there is a significant variance in the amount of power consumed. For example, combo PON, an integrated solution that enables operators to launch GPON and XGS-PON simultaneously from a single active port, is 50% greener than a comparable disaggregated GPON and XGS-PON-based solution.

Combining the best of all worlds with open, disaggregated solutions

A significant struggle facing the telecommunications industry is transitioning to a green company when there is an existing product footprint. Replacing an entire network each time a new, greener product enters the market results in costly overhead quickly. It is time to transition the typical architecture to a new one that allows for consistent improvement in an efficient and manageable way.

Rather than replacing an entire network, the path to greener connectivity looks like a reimagined portfolio that breaks a solution into different components, reducing the heavy interdependency between network elements.

Traditional chassis-based systems are limited by a monolithic architecture that prevents the adoption of power-efficient chipsets. Many are still stuck using a 45nm technology. In comparison, disaggregated systems leverage power-efficient technologies with 28nm and 16nm chipset technology. Despite the headwinds that Moore's Law faces, significant efficiency gains are available in future chipsets. With every jump in technology, we see magnitudes of increase in power savings. What operators need is a sufficiently flexible architecture that allows and encourages taking advantage of power-efficient chipsets.

Modern hardware platforms designed around open and disaggregated architectures are specifically built using intelligent and power-efficient components to help drive improvements in the overall power consumption per megabit despite the growing demands on Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology. With Ethernet as the only network element interdependency, chipset and transceiver advancements can be quickly integrated to achieve efficiency targets. In this modern structure, a network can be upgraded independently as more efficient greener solutions become available.

With today’s political and environmental climate for Telecom Operators, investing in a low-cost, low-emissions technology is an obvious choice. While there are many levers to pull to lower energy costs and reduce carbon footprint, one that provides sustainable long-term benefits to telecom operators is in structural and architectural transformation. It begins with operators deploying as much of their network as feasibly possible with FTTH-based PON solutions. Telecom operators need to consider breaking through the limitations and dependencies of a monolithic architecture and transition to modern disaggregated solutions that offer more power-efficient deployment models which is essential to unlocking the future potential and sustainability of the fiber network.

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