CEET report nails wireless as energy monster

Apr 13, 2013 by Nancy Owano weblog

(Phys.org) —Research from Australia delivers bracing facts about serious demands on power in the coming years. The researchers find that just pinning power-grid drains on the "cloud" is imprecise. The real problem is on the mobile cloud. The researchers zeroed in on energy consumption needed to support cloud services accessed by wireless networks. They found that wireless networking infrastructure worldwide accounts for significantly more power consumption than data centers.

"By 2015, the of data centers will be a drop in the ocean compared to in delivering cloud services," said Dr Kerry Hinton, Deputy Director, CEET (stands for Center for Energy Efficient Telecommunications). CEET is behind the wake-up report, "The Power of Wireless Cloud." According to CEET, that drop in the ocean is supported by . Wireless networks will use about 90 percent of the energy needed to power the entire wireless cloud services ecosystem in 2015, in contrast with data centers, accounting for nine percent—or less.

While research elsewhere has pointed to data centers as the in threatening energy consumption, loyal users of services from , , and others, with their portable devices, are the real concern, driving a massive surge in energy consumption.

"The problem is that we're all accessing cloud services – things like webmail, and virtual applications – over wireless networks," said Hinton. "It's the modern way but wireless is an energy monster, it's just inherently inefficient."

A simple takeaway is that "Industry needs to focus on the real issues with wireless network technologies if it wants to solve this problem." All aspects of the cloud ecosystem, according to the researchers, must be looked at, as well as data centers.

"We often think of bandwidth as the barrier to the way online services evolve and improve," said a CEET statement discussing the report, but the "very real message here is that the real bottleneck, looming sooner than we think, may be energy."

One of the more bracing factoids in the report compares wireless cloud energy consumption with putting new cars on the road. "Our energy calculations show that by 2015, wireless cloud will consume up to 43 TWh, compared to only 9.2 TWh in 2012, an increase of 460%. This is an increase in carbon footprint from 6 megatonnes of CO2 in 2012 to up to 30 megatonnes of CO2 in 2015, the equivalent of adding 4.9 million cars to the roads."

The goal of the report is not to suggest that everyone stop swiping and tapping on their smartscreens, however.

"I think it's unlikely people trade away the mobile convenience of these services," said a CEET statement. The report is intended as a guide for finding real solutions. According to CEET, one solution might be to increase the way network resources are shared among users, "but more likely we'll need a radical improvement in the efficiency of the technologies themselves and potentially a fundamental change to the way data is managed across the global network. These are the things we're investigating at CEET."

CEET is a partnership between Alcatel-Lucent Australia, Bell Labs, the University of Melbourne, and the Victorian State Government. Their focus is on energy-efficient telecommunications.

Explore further: High court to hear dispute about TV over Internet

More information: www.ceet.unimelb.edu.au/pdfs/ceet_white_paper_wireless_cloud.pdf

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User comments : 4

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2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2013
These are very sobering figures indeed. I doubt whether the power grids of most Western cities are ready for this. The cost of upgrading infrastructure is going to be huge. Guess who pays?
not rated yet Apr 13, 2013
@BSD - the paper discusses wireless in terms of total global wireless users, so the numbers appear to be global rather than just Australia.
If that is the case then even the 2015 number represents just 0.1% of human's CO2 emissions, so it is fast growth of a small number.
not rated yet Apr 14, 2013
In comparing energy consumed by wireless computing to energy consumed by cars-on-the-road, is there any consideration of the reduction of cars-on-the-road because of the availability of wireless devices? People don't drive somewhere because they can accomplish something wirelessly.

There are likely other energy consumers we could use for similar pointless comparisons: streetlights, broadcast transmitters, poorly insulated houses, etc. How does this help my perspective?

The issue is best resolved economically. When there's a strong incentive to save money by saving energy, it will be done.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2013
@alfie - A top-notch study would indeed include such trade-offs.
However tethered access (in-office or in-home) seems more likely to diminish travel (telecommuting, teleconferencing) than wireless access, since wireless access removes the bandwith incentive to stay at a high-bandwidth point.

On your last point, yes, if the true cost of energy (including indirect costs such as wars and environmental damage) were reflected in its price, the issue would be resolved by people acting in their own interest.

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