Cool broadband on the 'cards'

Cool broadband on the ‘cards’Equipment used in BT’s access network could trigger a breakthrough in helping further reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Trials at BT’s research and development centre at Martlesham in Suffolk and at a nearby exchange confirmed that it's possible to make significant power savings on the equipment used to deliver 21st century networks (21CN) broadband services.

For BT engineers it was the culmination of an innovation challenge to configure the latest generation of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) line cards - which allow up to 20Mbit/s broadband speeds on the last mile of the network - to operate in an 'always available' rather than 'always fully on' mode.

This innovation makes it possible to put ADSL lines into a low power mode on a line-by-line basis when user or network traffic is low. Then when traffic levels resume full speed returns immediately.

Kevin Foster from BT’s Innovate and Design business has taken the project from idea, to a proof of concept laboratory test and into a network trial in 18 months. But it was some imaginative thinking by BT engineers underpinned by BT’s own Dynamic Line Management (DLM) system which provided most of the answers.

Customer experience

Kevin says: “DLM helps ensure a stable and high quality broadband connection. BT's ability to configure the low power mode on existing broadband lines while enabling future scale through DLM brought the innovation to life without impacting on customer experience and this was the key driver for the development team."

“This project paves the way for future innovation aimed at making our networks always available rather than always on," he adds.

For the moment the project is still in development stage, but after the laboratory test and successful customer trial at Kesgrave exchange, albeit small, the development team is confident that it can develop it further.

BT’s network infrastructure currently accounts for more than 60 per cent of its carbon footprint and the access network represents a large part.

From a business perspective the ‘cool broadband’ concept could reduce each line’s energy consumption in the network by around 30 per cent depending on customers' usage.

“Delivering the low power mode into a UK wide 21CN access network could save several million pounds a year in electricity costs and make a considerable reduction in greenhouse gases emissions,” says Kevin.

And he stresses the project has a two-fold target of workable business benefits and the company’s overriding commitment to corporate social responsibility in terms of lowering its carbon footprint.

Challenges remain

While the lower power trial is an exciting innovation it’s not without further technical challenges which will continue to stretch the thinking of BT engineers.

But from a sustainability impact it now means BT has found a way to deliver broadband products and services over 21CN, while continuing to reduce carbon emissions and drive down its OPEX - a cost savings measure.