Study: Energy-hogging Wi-Fi and LTE networks threaten wireless cloud

The University of Melbourne issued a surprising analysis that indicates "inherently energy inefficient" radio access networks are "the biggest threat to the sustainability of cloud services."

Wi-FI and LTE are on their way to becoming the dominant methods for accessing cloud services, and that raises reasons for concern, according to a study from the Australian university, which claims the current focus on data centers as energy hogs is misplaced.

Cloud services are used by consumers for personal computing, gaming and social networking activities and by businesses in lieu of a traditional desktop computing or to provide additional scalable computation or Web-server resources.

Figure 1

Source: University of Melbourne

Vigorously promoted wireless cloud services include Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iCloud, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) SkyDrive and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Drive. "The common theme in accessing their cloud services is via a wireless connection," said the university.

"Wireless access networks are clearly the biggest and most inefficient consumer of energy in the cloud environment," according to institution.

Figure 2

Source: University of Melbourne

By 2015, the wireless cloud will consume up to 43 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy, an increase of 460 percent from consumption of only 9.2 TWh in 2012. "This is an increase in carbon footprint from 6 megatons of CO2 in 2012 to up to 30 megatons of CO2 in 2015, the equivalent of adding 4.9 million cars to the roads. Up to 90 percent of this consumption is attributable to wireless access network technologies," said the university, noting data centers account for only 9 percent of the energy consumption.

The university estimates that wireless cloud traffic constitutes some 20 percent of mobile traffic and approximately 35 percent of data center traffic.

Acknowledging the user convenience of wireless access to the cloud, the university is calling for efforts to make radio access technologies more efficient while potentially reworking "how the industry manages data and designs the entire global network."

Energy reduction is becoming a key focus for wireless industry vendors and operators. Energy costs are responsible for a significant hit on overall network opex and also present a significant hurdle to delivering broadband service to less densely populated areas.

For more:
- see this University of Melbourne white paper (PDF)

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