Making the internet more energy efficient

The challenge lies in meeting that inevitable demand for capacity and performance while keeping costs at a reasonable level and minimizing the environmental impacts.

Accommodating the digital lifestyle requires an enormous amount of data to be transmitted through fiber optic cables. And this amount is increasing at an almost unimaginable rate, consuming an enormous amount of electricity.

This is unfeasible – at the flow pace of increment, if no energy efficiency gains were made, within ten years, the internet alone would devour more electricity than is presently generated around the world. Electricity generation can’t be expanded at a similar rate without massively increasing the utilization of fossil fuels for electricity generation, thus prompting a significant increment in carbon dioxide emissions. 

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fiber optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be ten times less energy consumptive.

Peter Andrekson, Professor of Photonics at the Department of Microtechnology and Nanoscience at Chalmers, said“The challenge lies in meeting that inevitable demand for capacity and performance while keeping costs at a reasonable level and minimizing the environmental impacts.”

At the initial stage of the project, scientists identified the most significant energy drains in today’s fiber-optic systems. Based on the knowledge, scientists designed and built a concept for a system for data transmission, which consumes as little energy as possible. Optimizing the components of the system against each other results in significant energy savings.

Per Larsson-Edefors, Professor in Computer Engineering at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Chalmers, said, “Our measurements show that the energy consumption of our refined chips is around ten times less than conventional error-correcting chips.”

At a foundational level, the scientists likewise showed the benefits of utilizing ‘optical frequency combs’ rather than having separate laser transmitters for every recurrence channel. An optical frequency comb produces light at all wavelengths all the while, making the transmitter very frequency- stable. This makes the gathering of the signs a lot simpler – and thus more energy efficient.

Energy savings can likewise be made through controlling fiber optic communications at the network level. By scientifically demonstrating the energy consumption in various system assets, data traffic can be controlled and directed with the goal that the assets are used ideally. This is particularly significant if traffic differs after some time, similar to the case in most networks. For this, the specialists built up an optimization algorithm, which can diminish energy consumption by up to 70%.

According to scientists, “The research breakthroughs offer great potential for making the internet of the future considerably more energy-efficient. Several scientific articles have been published in the three research disciplines of optical hardware, electronics systems, and communication networks.”

Erik Agrell, Professor in Communications Systems at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers, said, “Improving the energy efficiency of data transmission requires multidisciplinary competence. The challenges lie at the meeting points between optical hardware, communications science, electronic engineering, and more. That’s why this project has been so successful.”

The research could have enormous potential to make future internet usage significantly more energy efficient. It has resulted in several research publications within the three scientific disciplines of optical hardware, electronics systems and communications networks, including the following three:

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