As smart phone users flood the market, mobile networks stand to improve efficiency by 90 percent or more

By Laura D’Alessandro

Energy efficiency measures could reduce the 2010 net energy use of global data and communications networks by 90 percent or more by 2020, according to China-based global energy efficiency consortium GreenTouch. The most significant gains are expected in the mobile sector.

“Reducing energy by 90 percent is conservative as we have many projects underway whose effects were not taken into account in that number,” said Thierry Van Landegam, GreenTouch chairman, in a May news release.

While the study examined energy consumption in data and communications networks overall, it found mobile networks can benefit the most from energy efficiency efforts, to the tune of efficiency improvements of up to 1,043 times. Efficiency improvements in other networks, such as landline telecommunications, are expected but would be less dramatic as such networks are already somewhat efficient and further gains will be less significant.

Mobile networks, while the fastest growing networks in terms of data volumes, are the least efficient, according to GreenTouch. “[The] recommendations couldn’t come at a better time, because the growing wave of new smart phone users threatens to flood cloud power demand,” an article on CleanTechnica.com said, citing a recent white paper from the University of Melbourne’s Center for Energy Efficient Telecommunications. The white paper predicts wireless devices could increase the energy demands of mobile data from 9 million MWh in 2012 to as much as 43 million MWh in 2015.

GreenTouch included such dramatic increases in traffic when outlining the potential network operations space in 2020 through advanced modeling. Models used a combination of methods including forecasting, trend projections, theoretical and analytical calculations, and network simulation. The study defined energy efficiency as the ratio of the useful traffic carried by a network and the total energy required to support that traffic over a year.

The GreenTouch consortium is made up of 53 global telecommunications and research organizations. The group formed in 2010 with the goal of making communication networks 1,000 times more efficient by 2015. GreenTouch plans to issue reports through 2015 with the next update expected later in 2013.