Mobile goes green

The mobile industry is going green. Already vendors have begun a series of initiatives from 'green phones' that mitigate radiation to mobile phone chargers that use less standby power to address environment issues. As the need to reduce cost and environmental awareness among mobile operators continue to rise, telecom equipment suppliers now are taking green initiatives more seriously than ever. And the recent focus is on the provisioning of eco-friendly and energy-efficient solutions, particularly base stations and cell sites, which consume the majority of a network's energy.

Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), for example, upped the ante in the green base station race in November by unveiling a new energy-efficient base station, which it claims enables up to 70% savings in energy consumption.

In a network with approximately 5,000 base stations, serving a large metropolitan area, the annual energy saving would be the equivalent of 73,000 tons of CO2 emissions, the emissions generated annually by 21,000 cars, the company says.

Nokia had sold its low-power Flexi GSM base-station equipment to China Mobile Beijing to support its network during the 2008 Olympic Games, according to Daniel Tsen, NSN's head of radio technology for Greater China region.

The radio access gear is only part of what NSN said would be a larger green push by the vendor. According to NSN, the company has reduced energy consumption across its base station portfolio, with energy consumption levels of 800W and 500W respectively for its GSM and W-CDMA base stations. It intends to further reduce this to 650W and 300W respectively by 2010.
Moving forward NSN will also be addressing its basic materials used in product engineering with the goal to make smaller, more durable products that can be re-used and the components of which can be recycled once they reach the end of their life cycle, said Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO of NSN.

The race is on

NSN isn't the first vendor to announce a green initiative. Already vendors like Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei Technologies, Ericsson and Motorola have introduced energy-efficient and eco-friendly base stations and undertaken various initiatives aimed at helping operators reduce power consumption and their overall carbon footprint.

In the wireless sector, said Andre Mechaly, VP of marketing and communications at Alcatel-Lucent's mobile access division, the company has introduced base stations that significantly reduce power consumption, through the elimination of the need for air conditioning or heating elements, and reduction in the physical number of base station sites required.

'The power supply reduction that Alcatel-Lucent mobile radio infrastructure solutions enable an operator to achieve cost efficiencies in the range of 10% to 15% of an entire network's annual total cost of ownership.' Mechaly noted, adding that the solution has been deployed by T-Mobile and Reliance.

In its latest green initiative, the company has developed a 'dynamic power save feature' that can reduce the power consumption of its GSM base stations by 25%. The feature is scheduled for introduction later this year. 

In the meantime, Ericsson in September unveiled a base station site that incorporates all equipment into a single concrete tower, with the base station at the top, near the antenna.
Zhang Shen, senior market manager for network solutions at Ericsson, says concrete has a lower environmental impact than traditional steel, producing 30% less CO2 emissions during production and transportation.


Combined with the fact that no active cooling is needed, it delivers reduced energy consumption of up to 40%, he adds. The company says it also cuts opex by 30%.

Green fuels

In addition to reduced power consumption of base station and cell sites, vendors are also exploring alternative bio-diesel, solar and wind energy for the developing world. Unlike conventional diesel, these technologies have a much lower impact on the environment while enabling operators to reduce costs.

Ericsson, for example, has conducted trials with the GSM Association and operators in Nigeria and India to demonstrate the viable of bio-fuels to replace diesel as a source of power for mobile base stations located beyond the reach of the electricity grid. The deployments of bio-fuel base stations are not only intended to support mobile networks in areas with no ready access to the power grid, they are also geared toward local economic development, using local farmers' crops to create the bio-mass powering its networks.

In its latest push in reusable energy, the Swedish vendor deployed in November a solar-driven remote GSM base station for Telkomsel to provide macro coverage in the untapped areas of Sumatra, Indonesia. The site solution, which does not require diesel fuel and has maintenance-free batteries, helps Telkomsel address the challenge of bringing coverage to areas with limited access to the electricity grid in Sumartra, while reducing opex and total cost of ownership, according to Ericsson Southeast Asia president Jan Signell.

Alcatel-Lucent, meanwhile, claims that it has deployed more than 150 sites that are powered by solar panels, according to Mechaly.

Motorola recently completed a trial using a solar and wind power system to run GSM cell sites in Nambia with MTC Namibia and the GSM Association. Richard Martin, Motorola's global marketing manager for 2G/2.5G solutions, home & networks mobility, says the trial was conducted from April to August during the winter months when both wind and solar energy would be at their lowest availability and has proven the combination of wind and solar power can be as effective as mains power in keeping cellular base stations running at peak performance.

He says the new reusable energy solutions are now commercially available, with the first deployment by operators expected in the middle of this year.

With more GSM deployment expected in rural areas, where it is difficult or expensive to access to public electricity, the need for such solution will also increase, Martin predicts.

While environmental protection has been regarded as one of the drivers for the recent push in green base stations and all these power-efficient solutions, Julien Grivolas, senior telecom analyst at Ovum, says the underlying factor for operators' deployment of these solutions is cost.
'Pushing and deploying more power-efficient technology looks good from marketing and PR perspective,' he said. 'But really the main business driver is to find ways to reduce capital expense and operational expense.'

Martin at Motorola concurs. 'In some sense, the story there is very simple. Operators are going to do this [deployment of reusable energy solution] because this is going to save money.'



Sustainability starts at home

In addition to producing greener products, telecom equipment suppliers are also trying to make themselves green companies.

Motorola, for example, has committed to achieving a 6% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions (globally) by 2010, compared with its 2000 baseline. The company aims to achieve these reductions by improving energy management at its operations and using more renewable energy, says Richard Martin, the company's global marketing manager for 2G/2.5G solutions, home and networks mobility.

'In 2006, 5.2% of the electricity Motorola purchased came from renewable sources, and this is expected to increase to 10% this year,' Martin says. 'We also directly emit greenhouse gases from combustion in back-up generators/boilers at some of our sites.'

Meanwhile, Alcatel-Lucent says it has succeeded in reducing total greenhouse gas emissions as a direct result of the implementation of energy efficient projects, fuel substitution, recycling activities and optimization of its real estate portfolio.

For instance, a review of 22 facilities in North America conducted for the period from 2003 through 2006 demonstrated a reduction in annual consumption of electricity and natural gas that resulted in a 35% improvement in energy efficiency, says Andre Mechaly, vice president of marketing and communications at Alcatel-Lucent's mobile access division.

'Our long-term plans have been implemented to reduce not only the consumption of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions, but also to reduce waste production and discharge into water and air from the operations,' Mechaly noted. 

Nokia Siemens Networks is also trying to reduce its own carbon footprint. The company is working with independent auditors to measures its CO2 emissions, and expects to publish targets next year.

-Fiona Chau