'Green' catching momentum

Fri, 07/31/2009 - 8:45pm
Brian Santo, Editor

The SCTE will have a green pavilion at the Cable-Tec Expo.

Several cable companies have had individual green programs, but now the industry is preparing a literally concerted effort to get a bit greener. Green technology will be the focus at Cable-Tec Expo’s inaugural Expo Cable Technology Spotlight.

The Technology Spotlight, which the SCTE intends to become an integral part of the annual show from now on, will include a separate display area for the featured technology and a separate general session devoted to the topic.

The SCTE’s MSO Steering Council selected the topic, an indication that operators are ready to make conserving resources a priority. It’s also an indication that there are now enough green products, services and methods available to merit the attention.

This October, the SCTE plans to set up a Green Pavilion to showcase different green technologies. Vendors can apply to participate in the Green Pavilion; the SCTE will review the applications and will subsequently issue invitations. Qualified exhibitors can focus on at least one of three specific areas:

• Powering improvements for facilities and plant.
• Fleet enhancements involving smart routing and other fleet management options.
• Operational upgrades and improvements to enable additional efficiencies.

Various MSOs have already begun various green programs, including everything from switching to fluorescents to buying hybrid vehicles for their fleets to installing new higher-efficiency equipment, including network power supplies, CPE with Energy Star approvals and network equipment designed to draw less power.

Replacing actives with passives saves power
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 Motorola calculates significant reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) by switching from traditional LAN technology to optical LANs. On a percentage basis, opex savings far exceed capex savings. The allure is not only for MSOs’ own facilities, but the savings can be offered to business customers. Source: Motorola.

There are 24 set-top box models from DirecTV, Huawei, Motorola and Pace that are Energy Star qualified, and 50 converter box models from companies such as LG Electronics, Philips and Skardin Industrial. AT&T and DirecTV have partnered with the Energy Star program to provide qualified set-top boxes. There are more than 1,000 TV models from any number of manufacturers with the Energy Star logo.

Cox Communications has a formal and fairly extensive internal program called Cox Conserves. Comcast’s new headquarters building in Philadelphia was built on green principles (see “The greening of the network”).

Discovery Communications is deliberately buying wind-generated power, and its headquarters has received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit environmental organization that concerns itself with sustainable buildings.

Time Warner Cable has since begun giving its subscribers the opportunity to request paperless billing. Those who take the option, called PayXpress, are offered $0.99 off of their monthly bill.

Verizon has a program in which it will plant a tree for every shareholder who agrees to receive corporate reports electronically and every Verizon Business customer who agrees to receive bills electronically.

Verizon is also getting LEED certifications for some of its facilities and has launched a pilot project to install software to remotely shut off office computers not in use.

Once it deploys the software company-wide, Verizon calculates it can save the equivalent to the annual energy needs of 88,000 homes. It is also adopting the use of energy-efficient, "thin-client" computers, reducing the associated energy usage by 30 percent.

Telecommunications and IT tend to get lumped together in evaluations of industrial contributions to greenhouse gases; cable, phone and satellite companies simply don’t get their own line items within the category. But in general, data centers are under scrutiny, generally because they’re based on vast banks of computers and storage systems that generate significant heat and require significant cooling.

“The explosion of information technology has come with environmental costs: a sharp rise in energy use and significant impacts of manufacturing, using and disposing of electronic devices,” notes the Environmental Defense Fund, a prominent environmental group known for its embrace of market-based solutions.

Perhaps because data centers are under such scrutiny, companies like Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, which supply a lot of that equipment, are very focused on increasing the power efficiency of their products.

Power efficiency is not the main reason any service provider is going to buy a piece of equipment, but the argument is finding its way into product pitches with increasing regularity.

For example, when BroadLogic introduced new silicon to power ultra-dense edge QAMs, it focused on the lower costs promised for the edge QAM unit itself; BroadLogic believes lower-cost, ultra-dense edge QAMs could cut by half the entire cable industry’s bill for QAMs over the next few years. But as gravy, it threw in some eye-opening numbers on power savings.

The company projects the entire industry might install about 65 million edge QAMs over the next few years; BroadLogic calculates the annual expense to power 65 million current-technology QAMs would total $340 million. But by using ultra-dense edge QAMs, the annual power expense would be a mere $84 million.

Companies selling products that extend fiber closer to customers talk mostly about bandwidth, but they’re also quick to note that when you pull out active components and replace them with passive components (in passive optical networks, or PONs), the power savings can be significant.

Verizon Business, for example, is making green hay by touting its continuing upgrade to fiber, saying its optical network is four times more efficient and also reduces cooling costs.

Motorola earlier this year introduced an optical PON LAN specifically for corporate buildings and campuses. Motorola’s big pitch is capex savings, but equally impressive are the opex savings, including a reduction in power consumption of anywhere from nearly 50 percent for a LAN with 250 users to 75 percent for a LAN with 5,000 or more.

“Capex is a line item,” said Aurora Networks’ vice president of marketing John Dahlquist, “opex is an addendum. Opex happens two, three years out. But operators are more interested in hearing about it.”



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