Today, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are modernizing and automating their networks with goals of increasing agility, cutting costs, and improving the customer experience. Now they’re adding new targets: reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across their operations. Key software advancements, and one intelligent automation use case in particular, are helping them meet these important sustainability objectives.

Climate change and increasing energy costs are sharpening CSPs’ focus on sustainability as they set CO2 reduction goals, which for some include achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and net-zero emissions no later than 2050 – the deadline set by the United Nations in its Race to Zero campaign. These initiatives have become especially urgent across Europe, where energy costs have risen rapidly over the past year.

CSPs are taking action to reduce their energy consumption in two ways: by modernizing their network infrastructure with more sustainable equipment, and by taking advantage of software capabilities to automate and optimize their operations, such as Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and virtualized services.

Modernizing networks to reduce energy consumption

Operators worldwide are upgrading their network infrastructure by replacing legacy, power-hungry hardware in fixed and mobile networks with the latest generation of networking equipment that is capable of much greater performance within a much smaller power envelope. The result is a more efficient network with dramatically lower power consumption.

Ciena has been at the forefront in enabling the shift to greener networks. For example, our WaveLogic™ 5 coherent technology has achieved an 80% reduction in power per bit consumption over previous generations through successive technological advancements.

By leveraging software advancements to streamline and automate their network operations, CSPs can reduce energy consumption even more.

Software-driven sustainability

Calculating the energy savings from new network hardware is relatively straightforward because it boils down to space and power per bit. Measuring software’s contribution to telco sustainability is less clear-cut, but no less compelling.

One large North American network operator used Blue Planet Inventory (BPI) to auto-discover and model their nationwide multi-vendor transport and access network and identified more than 700 devices (including optical shelves) and 31,000 line-cards that were previously unaccounted for.

Three key software innovations are helping CSPs reduce their energy consumption and CO2 emissions:

  1. SDN leverages open APIs that give operators better visibility and control of their existing network assets, including enhanced traffic engineering capabilities like bandwidth-on-demand. By maximizing utilization of their multi-layer and multi-vendor networks, CSPs can optimize the amount of network hardware they need, and eliminate the related energy consumption. As described in the use case below, open APIs combined with dynamic inventory capabilities also make it easier to identify equipment that should be decommissioned or replaced, as well as to optimize path routing to consume less power.
  2. Virtualized services, like 5G, enable operators to take advantage of Cloud-based Network Functions (CNFs) running on servers deployed in data centers, rather than multiple physical network devices. Beyond eliminating multiple power-hungry devices throughout the network, virtualized services reduce the need for ‘truck rolls’, which has a huge impact on CO2 emissions to help CSPs meet their sustainability objectives.
  3. Intelligent automation is allowing CSPs to move away from siloed legacy Operations Support Systems (OSS), which are plagued by duplication of systems and processes, manual tasks, and human error. As networks get more complex, CSPs are leveraging orchestration, analytics, and machine learning (ML) to automate their network and service operations. This shift toward ‘zero-touch’ networks powered by a cloud-native and automation-optimized OSS stack significantly improves productivity of the CSP workforce and reduces energy consumption.

Automation use case: improving visibility to optimize sustainability

One intelligent automation use case, in particular, helps CSPs directly address their energy consumption challenges. As their networks have grown and become more dynamic with the influx of new services and digital transformation initiatives, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain full visibility of their network assets and topology. A dynamic network inventory solution that supports robust auto-discovery and modeling – like our Blue Planet Inventory (BPI) product – helps CSPs solve this issue.

When applied to minimize network energy consumption and emissions, BPI provides a wide variety of capabilities, including:

  • Identifying line-cards and other equipment that is not carrying live traffic, but still drawing power, and should be decommissioned
  • Identifying inefficient legacy equipment that could be replaced with more modern, power-efficient network platforms
  • Optimizing path routing to free up hardware for decommissioning, or to choose the shortest possible path, which minimizes the amount of electrical repeating
  • Prioritizing path routing across specific device types that consume less power like Passive Optical Network (PON) devices, or newer, more power-efficient hardware

These features are also proven in large networks. One large North American network operator used BPI to auto-discover and model their nationwide multi-vendor transport and access network and identified more than 700 devices (including optical shelves) and 31,000 line-cards that were previously unaccounted for.

Summing it up

The Blue Planet Intelligent Automation portfolio helps CSPs take a software-driven approach to sustainability. By simplifying the modernization and automation of network operations, Blue Planet allows CSPs to reduce their power consumption and emissions, and help address rapidly rising energy costs. As the transformation to 5G and other dynamic services continues, the increasing innovation and adoption of SDN, virtualized services, and intelligent automation ensure that software’s contribution to telco sustainability will also continue to accelerate.