Qualcomm targets home networking power suckers

Tammy Parker, FierceWirelessTechQualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) newly unveiled Internet Processor (IPQ) product line for networking the "smarthome" via an always-on gateway puts the spotlight on an ugly reality regarding the envisioned Internet of Things: If we, our devices and homes are constantly connected to the cloud, that more than likely means the power-hungry network equipment in our residences is sucking up energy 24x7.

This thought has crossed my mind more than once. I used to switch off my home Wi-Fi router at night, but I tired of switching the router back on in the morning only to have some of my connected equipment act as though it had never before linked to my Wi-Fi network. (I'm talking about you, HP Officejet printer.) I also expected to be able to start work as soon as I rolled out of bed without having to switch on the router and wait impatiently for my laptop to connect to it. So, like all of my nearby neighbors, I now leave the router on all the time.

That is a costly practice. In June 2013, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a study showing small network equipment, including modems, gateways and routers, in U.S. homes "consumed more than $1 billion worth of electricity in 2012, equivalent to the output of three large (500 MW) coal-fired power plants." Particularly intriguing was the fact that the NRDC's analysis showed that most small network devices draw the same amount of power when sitting idle as they do when transmitting large amounts of data at high rates.

The group said replacing currently used inefficient residential small network equipment with efficient models could save 2.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, slashing consumers' energy bills by about $330 million.

With those sorts of numbers in mind, the IPQ system on chip (SoC) line, which combines Qualcomm's 1.4 GHz Krait CPU with Qualcomm Atheros' networking chips, is tackling energy consumption by applying low-power technology to the network. The IPQ has an application processor pulled right out of Qualcomm's mobile phone chipset, "so it offers very good performance at very low power," Todd Antes, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Atheros, told me.

When home routers and gateway are pretty much never turned off, "that's like having a light bulb in your house that you turn on and leave on 365 days a year," Antes said. For an individual user, the cost may amount to $100 in electrical consumption per year, he said.  But for an aggregate number of users across a city, state or country, the impact is much more significant.

And without technological solutions, energy consumption will continue to rise as home networks demand higher throughput, bandwidth and capability, Antes said.

"Power consumption is an interesting topic in home networking. It's not been a headline topic at a consumer level, but we think it's becoming increasingly important at a regulatory level," he added.

Qualcomm's IPQ line is based upon a 28-nanometer CMOS node to reduce power consumption. The company claims its IPQ devices generate 10,000 DMIPS (Dhrystone million instructions per second) of processing power, which is twice the computing capability of the nearest comparable, and unspecified, home network competitor. Further, Qualcomm is claiming 6,000 DMIPS per watt for its IPQ chips, whereas the closest competitor can only generate 2,200 DMIPS per watt, according to Qualcomm.

Antes noted that OEMs care about power consumption not just from an environmental standpoint, but because high energy use translates into heat, which translates into cost as heat-prone devices require the addition of heat sinks or fans to battle high temperatures so they can continue operating properly without a component meltdown. "Cooler devices live longer," he said.

Qualcomm has been sampling IPQ chips since late August. The first two IPQ products--the IPQ8062 and IPQ8064 for retail routers and home media servers--are in production and will be available in commercial products during the first half of 2014. IPQ-based gateways and enterprise access points are expected by mid 2014.

It will be interesting to see how many broadband service providers and vendors offering IPQ-based products highlight the platform's green aspects. Maybe if consumers and businesses were made aware of just how much energy their networking equipment uses, they might become more interested in power-saving options.--Tammy

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