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I recently received an email from IEEE announcing its search for an editor for an upcoming series on green communications.   In a previous life I determined that LTE was much “greener” than 3G for delivering the bits to the mass-market mobile broadband.   Today you can use exploratory tools like Alcatel-Lucent’s G.W.A.T.T. where you can push the buttons and twist the knobs and get directionally correct guidance on where to focus your attention.   Hint:  Think LTE and Data-Centers as pointing to the biggest bang for the buck. 

The concept of “green” considered here reduces to how much energy is required to perform any given action.  Prompted by the research of Dr. James Meindl at Georgia Tech (google him for 13,700 hits) and the limits of low-power microelectronics, my thinking turned to optimization and energy consumption.   Thinking this way about the LTE Evolved Packet Core led to the serendipitous discovery that vendors using the same baseline technology (i.e. Intel x86 at a given tick-tock) have about the same power-performance curve.   That is why it is important for the infrastructure vendor to keep up with Intel cadence for improvement in power-performance and cost-performance. 

Now that LTE is widely deployed, with the second wave launches at hand, the question arises:  What is the optimum delivery of mobile broadband with respect to energy consumption?  Operators and vendors face a mix of 2G, 3G, 4G infrastructure, LTE-A, small cells, indoor, Wi-Fi and how to deliver across these access technology. Moreover, don’t forget 5G, M2M, IoT and the need to do this profitably.  Throw into the mix an end-to-end view of energy, data centers, backhaul and virtualization, and optimization seems like a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”   Many operators view the network as “plug it in, turn it on, and print money” but continue to fret over energy bills. Operators need help with this, and infrastructure vendors don’t help, then who will?

This is an opportunity for infrastructure vendors to differentiate and bring value to the operator, and it is only with a big-picture view of the network can these optimizations occur.  This might be a next big use case for SDN/NFV, where the mobile broadband network resembles a distributed super-computer with radios attached, and the end-to-end optimization complexity, at least with energy in mind, can reduce by several degrees of freedom.   

What is the answer to the intractable problem of energy optimization for a mobile broadband network?  Maybe SDN/NFV reduces the number of permutations to a manageable size and maybe even less than Avogadro’s Number.  Maybe a lot less, if the giant distributed supercomputer delivers the Answer to the Ultimate Question:  42. 



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