Broadband gateways search for power efficiency

For all the advances we see every day in our telecom industry, its ironic how much of a role traditional electric power continues to play in every e-mail and every call we make.

In a town where the power tends to go out a lot, especially during ice storms, I fear as we approach another New England winter that the very thing that powers my connection to the outside world will go down. This fear comes after a major ice storm last winter left my 1970s suburban style neighborhood in Dracut, Mass without power for three days.

For as much as I can't live without my laptop and my trusty NETGEAR router/modem, the constant threat of power outages makes me realize how electrical power can dictate the success or failure of my home network connection. I also notice that the device with its flashing downstream/upstream lights is probably also consuming power even when I am not cranking out the daily issue of FierceTelecom or writing my Monday column late on Sunday night.

Not to fear. Silicon vendors (Broadcom) and their home networking gateway counterparts are continually looking for ways to make devices more power efficient. Broadcom, which debuted both GPON and ADSL2+/802.11n silicon, said that these devices were in response to the European Commission's (EC) mandate and the fact that broadband competition has become even more fierce due to local loop unbundling (LLU). Obviously, as more competitors such as UK's Talk Talk offer lower-priced, higher-speed services, it's obvious that more subscribers will be powering up a network gateway in their homes.

This is not just vendor speak, however. Although I have noticed more emphasis by local power companies, including National Grid and others asking to find ways to cut down on their consumption, it looks like other countries, such as many in the EU, are ahead of the game again on the broadband gateway end.

Realizing that broadband home equipment (modems, gateways, gaming consoles, etc) will "contribute considerably to the electricity consumption of households in the European Community in the near future," the EC has developed what it calls a "Code of Conduct on Energy Consumption of Broadband Equipment."
The Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) contributed to the EC's effort, as its members include mainly large incumbent European telecom operators, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, KPN and one Asian operator, NTT.

During the spring 2009 CTIA show, I met with Duncan Bees, HGI's CTO, who asked to meet me after he read a column I wrote on how broadband operators and utilities should partner to create energy management applications for residential users. Bees talked about how the HGI contributed to the Home Gateway (HG) power targets for the EC's CoC on Energy Consumption of Broadband Equipment. The goal, as outlined in a HGI press release, "was to reduce the energy consumption of broadband communications equipment without obstructing the quality of service provided."

Less power hungry devices could have benefits to all parties involved. For the gateway vendor, it means they could present a lower power and more efficient device that they could market to service providers and customers that want to have more efficient network operations. Users gain a potential benefit by having devices that have the effect of a lower energy bill because, in addition to other initiatives such as turning off your air conditioner at peak times, the devices are sucking up less energy when they are not being actively used. Of course, less power consumption could translate into a lower monthly electric bill.

And as I argued in the same column that got Duncan's attention during CTIA, I think these energy conscious gateways could be tied into a joint broadband-enabled smart grid consumer energy program between let's say the local telco and utility that provides a detailed report on how much energy each home device is using. Knowing what you're using, however, is half the battle. To get this knowledge, service providers and gateway vendors will have to take a bipartisan unprecedented action and build a solution together.