Green Telecom East: Can Mobile Go Green?

The industry can look forward to incremental steps toward reducing power consumption in mobile networks rather than bold strides into a “green” alternative energy future over the next few years.

That was the underlying message from the wireless panel at today’s Green Telecom East show in New York City: Operators can save a lot of money just by taking some relatively simple steps to alter their radio networks but shouldn’t expect alternative energy to be a panacea, at least in the next few years.

As it stands, traditional power sources -- such as diesel generators -- are still cheaper for operators to run than solar arrays or wind turbines, when running mobile cellsites. Rich Garafola, director of sustainable power solutions at Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), says that over the next three to five years, alternative energy will likely get cheaper and diesel more expensive, but the price curves haven’t crossed yet.

"Solar has its own problems; you really have to be within 15 degrees of the equator for it to be a viable full-time alternative for power,” Garafola says. “We think that the more sustainable technology for the foreseeable future is wind turbines.”

AlcaLu’s Garafola and Claudio Frascoli, head of strategic marketing for North America at Nokia Networks suggest that carriers will initially focus on cutting power consumption of existing fossil fuel sources rather than widespread exploration of the alternatives. Much of this work will center around the radio access side of a mobile network since that’s the biggest power hog.

"Roughly 89 percent of the power consumption comes from the radio BTS (base transceiver station),” notes Frascoli.

There are various relatively simple ways to cut some of the consumption:

  • Making smaller base stations.
  • Improved cooling systems.
  • Collocating different network radio systems at the same site.
  • Using improved metal and plastic casings so that the power source can be located closer to the antenna array, cutting power losses that come from long cable runs.
  • Integrating backhaul with the BTS.

A proper green approach, using today’s technology, will enable energy reduction by up to 70 percent, claims Frascoli.

– Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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