This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Ulrich Schälling, VP Market Strategy at FNT Software
The push towards sustainability has many business benefits for telecom providers. Business can improve their sustainability by reducing energy consumption and using less resources, both of which tamp down carbon emissions. While that is good for the environment, these same measures are also good for the bottom line. Using less energy and fewer resources brings down energy costs and ongoing OPEX.
Network operators can address both environmental and financial concerns with the same set of actions, all of which involve the IT and network infrastructure. That’s why companies wanting to improve sustainability and financial metrics are taking a closer look at their infrastructure.
There are many ways to reduce energy consumption and resource usage within the network and data center. Detailed documentation of the IT infrastructure can help find and eliminate hidden waste and inefficiencies in both. The following provides guidance on what actions can be taken today to positively impact both the environment and the bottom line.
Sustainable Steps Towards the Future
The first – and most important – step telecom providers must take is to ensure that all infrastructure data is up-to-date, well-maintained, and comprehensive. When relevant infrastructure is documented in this manner, it forms a complete inventory that providers can rely on to make knowledge-based decisions that contribute to their sustainability and financial goals. Complete inventory will include assets and resources from the network, IT and data center domains, all of which are needed to deliver today’s digital communications services.
For example, management solutions with an advanced planning capability can identify hotspots in a data center and facilitate redistribution of heat-generating equipment. In a well-documented data center, power consumption, power networks, and utilization can be monitored. Software that enables the graphical visualization of the temperature distribution in the data center room makes it possible to quickly and easily identify problems such as hot and cold spots, or a problem with the cooling in general. As concentrations of power usage or pockets of excessive temperature are identified, alternate connection scenarios can be run in planning mode to see the effect proposed changes will have on the data center. When the optimal arrangement is identified the change can be implemented and energy use can be lowered.
Let’s look at other areas where a unified resource management solution can drive sustainability:
Increasing Network Automation
Network traffic is growing exponentially and forcing telecoms to consume increasing amounts of energy to operate their networks. Maximizing network efficiency through automation can help mitigate the rise in energy used.
In the event of a malfunction in the network, a well-documented infrastructure is crucial for automating and accelerating the problem analysis and detection, identify the services impacted, rectify the issue, and save unnecessary energy expenditure. For any kind of automation, an up-to-date resource management database with accurate as-is and planning data is the foundation.
Automation requires accurate and consistent inventory data that is linked to the higher layer management and orchestration systems that are configuring, provisioning, restoring and implementing any other automated functions in the network. The inventory data must also be unified across domain and dynamically updated by the active network wherever possible. For programmable networks such as 5G, the old cadence of daily inventory reconciliation isn’t frequent enough – a modern inventory solution needs to reconcile more regularly. A typical approach to meeting this demand is the combination of scheduled and event-driven reconciliation.
Adjusting for Consumption Patterns
The biggest energy consumption contributors are radio access networks (RAN) and hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC) networks. Environmentally conscious operators can reduce the energy usage of these networks by scaling back the operation of equipment during off-peak hours. One of the most effective ways to save energy is to turn off any unnecessary equipment during off-peak hours, making sure the network only uses the minimum energy required to maintain high-quality services.
Modern software can forecast traffic demands, calculate the ideal combination of network elements to be deactivated when traffic is low, and automatically re-configure the network. These intelligent solutions can even shut down the RAN when there is no traffic, or throttle down parts of the network when there are limited consumers or handsets. Conversely, they can scale up capacity when there are many users in one area due to a sports event or concert, for example. Such solutions can also use real-time network controls to monitor service quality and find the optimal balance between capacities made available to consumers and SLA obligations.
Decommissioning Legacy Networks, Building More Fiber Access Infrastructure, and Moving to 5G
Fiber is much more energy efficient than copper, which makes replacing copper one of the most impactful steps a telco provider can take when moving to a more energy efficient business model. Although replacing copper-based access networks with mobile and fiber connectivity is a longer-term solution that will require management buy-in, extensive planning, and considerable financial and personnel resources, providers will benefit from significantly lower energy consumption and costs in the end.
Applying fiber deep architectures in HFC makes it possible to push the optical-to-electrical conversion as close to the customer as possible. This results in the elimination of power-hungry components and therefore reduced energy consumption. Building 5G networks will also improve sustainability initiatives, as they have more energy efficient designs than older networks. In particular, the 4G standard requires most hardware components to remain active to transmit mandatory signals at more frequent intervals than required by 5G. Additionally, 5G requires far less always-on signaling transmissions in the frequency domain.
As communication service providers upgrade and transform networks, roll out 5G, and lay new fiber, full transparency into all network resources with all the dependencies across all hierarchies is critical. Each of these initiatives requires proper planning of the required activities based on accurate network data. A unified resource management solution, similar to a digital twin of the hybrid network infrastructure, provides this foundation.
The concept of network sharing is most widely applied in mobile (e.g., site sharing or neutral host networking) and fiber to the home (FTTH) networks. It refers to an arrangement where two or more communications service providers share network resources, either through joint ownership or by a third party-enabled open network, and includes active and passive sharing of both existing and new infrastructure. When infrastructure is shared in this way, there is less equipment in use, which ultimately reduces energy consumption and radio emissions.
Software that can manage shared resources in combination with owned resources is required for network sharing in today’s complex and heterogeneous environments. For complete transparency, a central system should easily integrate with third-party applications and provide an accurate, real-time view across all infrastructure and assets regardless of where they reside. Full visibility into physical assets, logical connections, virtual components, applications, and business services, as well as the relations and dependencies in between, can be achieved only when they documented and managed in one integrated system.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ulrich Schälling is VP Market Strategy at FNT Software. In this role, he is responsible for the strategy of FNT’s innovative software products in the telecommunications, data center and IT market. Before joining FNT, he worked in various roles at Alcatel-Lucent in the OSS and system integration business. Schälling holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and has over 30 years of experience in the communications market.
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