Advanced antennas, virtual modems to make networks greener

A joint research project between operators, vendors and universities aims to reduce consumption

The GreenTouch Consortium demonstrated its work Tuesday into how using large-scale antenna systems and virtual modems, along with splitting mobile networks into two parts, can help reduce energy consumption of operator networks by a factor of 1000.

The consortium was announced in January 2010 and officially formed the following May. By 2015, it aims to have a blueprint ready for how its goal of a 1000-fold improvement in operator network energy efficiency can be achieved. Four working groups are now looking at mobile communications, optical networking and transmission, core switching and routing, and wireline access networks.

The demonstration, the first by GreenTouch, showed a proof of concept large-scale antenna system to reduce energy consumption. Sixteen antennas worked together to aim the signal at the user for a 16-fold reduction in power usage. Existing mobile signals are sent across a much wider area, wasting a lot of power, according to Greg Wright, member of the technical staff at Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs.

Researchers from Alcatel-Lucent, Freescale, Huawei and Samsung cooperated to put together the demonstration.

However, there are many challenges to overcome before a system with that many antennas can become reality, including how much power the silicon uses and how the antennas will be built. But the consortium is looking into those issues as well, Wright said.

The consortium's groups are working on more than 25 different projects. One project, led by operator Swisscom, is looking at how to virtualize network equipment in homes. The hardware sitting in homes would be turned into virtualized software and moved into the operator network, where it can run more efficiently, according to Rod Tucker, laureate professor of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Melbourne. Homes would be equipped with simpler, less power-hungry hardware.

Huawei is also looking at how the modem or home gateway can use a sleep mode to automatically power down when not in use, and then power up again when data is sent or received.

Yet another project is looking at redesigning mobile networks, by separating the data part and the signaling part into two separate networks. Building a network in this way would benefit from the fact that the signaling part of a mobile network -- which, for example, handles roaming -- uses less power.

Today, the GreenTouch Consortium has 36 members. Besides the companies that worked on the demonstration AT&T, China Mobile and Cambridge University are among those that have also joined the cause, with the group set to grow through further negotiations with other companies and research laboratories.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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