Huawei Spotlights Green Network Solutions

Back in July, I attended Huawei’s Win-Win Innovation Week online, and a significant portion of the event discussed green technology. The second day was even dedicated to the topic, with a series of sessions led by different business units all focussing on sustainability in ICT. The day also showed some of the ways that networking solutions can deliver energy efficiency in other industries. Here are some of the highlights.

The sessions began with Ryan Ding, president of Huawei’s carrier business unit, outlining the value in green ICT for telecom operators and their enterprise customers through energy savings, lower carbon emissions and aiding the transition to a circular economy. Carbon emissions in the industry are rising rapidly because of accelerating mobile data traffic; Huawei noted data usage is expected to grow 13-fold between 2020 and 2030, according to an independent forecast. Dramatic energy efficiency improvements are needed to help offset this.

Mr Ding stated that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) predicts the ICT industry must cut 45% of carbon emissions by 2030 in order to hit the target set out by the Paris Agreement. He identified three central measures of progress for green industry: energy efficiency of digital infrastructure; renewable energy development; and digitalization.

The executive also called for a standardized system for comparing energy efficiency throughout the telecom sector. Being able to calculate progress using agreed-upon networking metrics would allow operators to check progress against their net-zero timelines and guide operations planning — possibly even accelerating action. Huawei has proposed its Network Carbon Intensity (NCIe) index as an indicator of energy efficiency that would give the industry a common set of metrics to monitor how they’re faring. The NCIe has been approved by ITU-T Study Group 5, a focus group that covers sustainability, and is now in the process of public consultation.

Ao Li, chief engineer at the China Academy for Information and Communications Technology, outlined what he believes are the four green principles the industry should base its sustainability strategies on:

  • Clean energy, using renewable sources and processes such as natural cooling
  • Reducing carbon emissions by using technologies with lower energy consumption
  • Greener operations, using tech such as artificial intelligence for greater process efficiency
  • Resource efficiency through recycling, reusing materials and air temperature created by networking processes

There were also contributions from the three major Chinese operators, each sharing their experiences of deploying green solutions and pursuing sustainable initiatives. All of these were good to hear about, but it’s incredibly important that commitments from all players stand up to future scrutiny. Guan Zhou, head of public policy with GSMA Greater China, presented data from a 2021 report on green action in ICT and compared the impact of mobile connectivity with other industries’ emissions. In this regard the mobile industry is less of a culprit than others. However, Mr Zhou argued that improvements can’t be achieved without renewed carbon reduction efforts and widespread adoption of “5.5G” — Huawei’s term for the next phase of 5G.

Closing the day’s presentations Dr Philip Song, chief marketing officer for Huawei’s carrier business group, discussed how building sustainable ICT infrastructure can address traffic growth and reduce emissions. To this end he announced the launch of Huawei’s new suite of green development solutions, based on a three-layer approach covering green cell sites, green networks and green operations. The launch showcased the features of each layer:

  • For green cell sites, a new 12 kW power module solution adopts an integrated design to support 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G in a single site, using innovative new materials. Its fully outdoor design also improves energy efficiency by removing indoor-to-outdoor cabling. The solution optimizes solar power storage efficiency through artificial intelligence; Huawei claims this generates about 25% more electricity than standard offerings.
  • For green networks, Huawei proposed an architecture that supports simplified and intelligent networks, helping processes such as traffic routing consumer less energy. By using all-optical connectivity for the entire network, for example, energy efficiency can be improved by a factor of 10, at least according to Huawei. The solution also includes multi-service processing routers that integrate four units of equipment into one, significantly reducing the amount of space needed for equipment and improving energy efficiency.
  • For green operations, Huawei’s new intelligent O&M solution — aimed at network operations and maintenance — generates and distributes optimization policies and makes energy efficiency indicators more visible and manageable. It uses data analytics and cloud-based machine learning to support intelligent router hibernation. It also automatically adjusts the forwarding frequency of network processors based on changes in traffic volume; in effect, this pre-emptively “turns down” network resources in less busy periods to conserve energy.

Note that the NCIe system proposed by Huawei supports this three-layer solution of green sites, green networks and green operations.

I’ve been tracking green network solutions for some time, and believe it’s vital that operators centre their network development on energy efficiency to promote cost efficiency. And of course, their efforts to cut their carbon footprint — especially if benchmarked using a standard like the NCIe — will show them to be fulfilling environmental, social and corporate governance responsibilities. These responsibilities are increasingly important to consumers, enterprise customers and shareholders alike; Dr Song noted that Huawei now incorporates green development in all its products, from network infrastructure to devices. To date, the solutions outlined above have been deployed for operators in over 100 countries.

The most important message from day two of Huawei’s event was the need for operators to have an all-encompassing, systematic approach to green networking and operations — working with their technology partners to make networks more sustainable. This then enables other industries to reduce their own carbon footprints.