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15 November 2022

Nokia targets “broadband zero” with new energy efficiency charter

A new white paper from Nokia claims that the Finnish firm is targeting “broadband zero”.

Faced with the revelation that about 89% of the company’s total carbon footprint comes from product usage and energy consumption, Nokia is on a mission for more sustainable broadband. Production accounts for another 10% of Nokia’s energy consumption, while transportation makes up the minimal remainder.

Nokia’s paper outlines its investment in new power-saving technologies to reduce its energy usage. Taking silicon design and development inhouse is an approach favored by many large technology organizations, not only to have greater control over their own hardware such as broadband CPE, but increasingly as a strategy dressed in green clothes. We looked recently at how Apple’s proprietary M1 chipset is marketed as a power-saving breakthrough, reducing energy consumption in the latest iPhones by 30%.

Nokia’s own Quillion chipset is taking similar strides. Innovations in both software and hardware are bringing to market more power-efficient chipsets, which in turn are leading to more power-optimized network nodes – using less space and less power.

Quillion is introducing features such as powering down unused optics (saving up to 1.5W per hour for GPON optics) and improved fan tray control algorithms to reduce energy consumption and cooling when not required.

Nokia’s paper doesn’t elaborate on these intelligent cooling algorithms, but they are sure to include features such as automatically adjusting fan power based on heat output, rather than having fans and other cooling equipment (like liquid cooling) running at a constant rate.

A lot has been said about sleep/wake features in WiFi gateways and access points, with vendors seemingly fighting a futile battle with most ISPs on this front. Orange is a notable exception, having recently staked a claim as the first operator in the world to roll-out a Deep Sleep mode in its WiFi 6E-compatible Livebox 6 gateway. This automatically switches off the 6 GHz band when no WiFi 6E devices are detected, reducing energy consumption below 0.3W.

Nokia is boasting 67% lower power consumption in the latest generation of its WiFi Beacons, including power saving modes with scheduled sleep/wake times for longer battery life.

In fixed networks, power savings of more than 50% have been implemented in nodes, Nokia claims, by reducing the number of components using its next-gen processors with smart reverse power feeding from the CPE – this helps nodes only draw power for ports that are in use. This development means only 7W of power is required for one active user, which Nokia says is equivalent to a single LED lamp.

That said, Nokia accepts that fiber is a significantly more sustainable technology than other types of fixed broadband – in terms of cost and power efficiency – and Nokia’s portfolio is therefore being adapted around fiber network infrastructure.

Nokia pulls out data from its revered Bell Labs division showing that broadband speeds have increased by 64-fold since 2007, but power consumption has been reduced by 38% – though this appears to ignore some other points in the data delivery chain where absolute power consumption has increased, including the explosion of devices in those 15 years.

Focusing on the network itself, Nokia is betting big on fiber, describing it as the “green technology for the future”. Research shows fiber technologies consuming substantially less power per subscriber than 5G fixed wireless access (FWA), as shown in the figure below.

Nokia has committed to reducing its scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 41% and to reduce absolute scope 3 emissions by 75% between 2014 and 2030. Scope 3 emissions account for an overwhelming majority of total carbon emissions for most organizations, and Nokia is no exception.

Together with top operators, including Dutch tier 1 KPN, Nokia is working on what it calls circular product passports, eco-cost calculations, and recommendations for improvements in recyclability.

For improved recycling, Nokia works the iNEMI organization to evaluate products designs, looking at materials choice and materials liberation.

Zooming in on circularity, for instance, Nokia finds that no other material comes close in terms of environmental cost to build and reuse than stainless steel, which is the most ecologically sound material for the chassis of its modular network equipment. Stainless steel is also the most efficient choice for containing radiation, minimizing interference, conducting heat, rigidity, and ease of recycling, according to Nokia.

Nokia’s use of plastics specifically in circularity are ongoing to determine how much reused plastic can be applied to equipment designs. The most challenging components to be made are printed circuit boards (PCBs) – comprising complex stacks of copper and fiberglass that are difficult to disassemble and recycle or reuse. Nokia highlights that there are currently no alternative materials to manufacture PCBs, and therefore this remains an area of technology that is yet to be attacked from the sustainability angle.