A famous frog once said that being green wasn’t all that easy. In fact, he’s known to have lamented the fact time and time again. Of course, it’s only been more recently that business leaders have come to appreciate the depth and validity of his statements. Had this frog known how pertinent his words would be to modern day business, he could have amassed a fortune from the seminar circuit and consulting fees.
However, just as the shades of green are varied, so too are the paths to enabling a greener enterprise. Whether the motivation is building shareholder value or a better place to live, the concept of green business has taken hold and is discussed more and more frequently in boardrooms across the world.
Going green requires a multifaceted approach and communications technology is certainly one area that can make a tangible difference toward helping businesses lower their carbon footprint. A number of interesting advancements in wireless technology specifically promise to help simplify the transition to green. For most, the primary focal point of any green initiative is energy savings. Of course, it’s important to not overlook other areas including packaging, waste reduction, eco-friendly manufacturing and recyclable or reusable materials. However, for now, we’ll stick with the main theme of energy.
As the first power distribution method ever (think the sun’s rays heating the Earth), wireless is inextricably linked to energy. Recent innovations in the area of wireless power distribution promise the ability to recharge consumer electronics without the need to “plug-in.” Industry groups like the Wireless Power Consortium intend to create the global standard required to spawn further uptake of this technology. Yet, as cool as it sounds, it’s unclear how wireless power will help in the quest to lower energy consumption. Nonetheless, there are areas where wireless and energy meet to affect a positive – and not-so-difficult – outcome.
With the advent of mobile computing, enterprises are using Wi-Fi and cellular networks to provide consistent connectivity between employees and business intelligence. Premise-based Wi-Fi combines the convenience of cellular with the performance of wired and contributes to the greening of business in two key areas. Firstly, it provides an efficient method of communications delivery relative to power consumption. On a pure per-user basis, Wi-Fi provides base-level services (e.g. e-mail, Web browsing and enterprise applications) at lower energy consumption than alternative, on-premise connectivity methods. However, this comparison in and of itself is a red herring given the variable nature of application demands on bandwidth and the need of most businesses to support more than just basic applications. A more relevant evaluation is the reduction in time and resources spent to deploy fixed infrastructure (e.g. cabling) within a facility versus that which is needed to deploy pervasive wireless access.
Secondly, and more interesting still, are the efficiencies that can be gained in an office where wireless coverage is pervasive. Wireless creates a more flexible workspace – one in which users can collaborate and move freely to form ad hoc work groups. The combination of flexible workspaces and policies that promote hoteling and teleworking not only increase employee productivity, but decrease the amount of physical space required to house employees. This reduction in physical space translates into lower facilities costs – not only in building space, but also in the energy required to heat, cool and light facilities. Wireless is at the foundation of making this flexible workspace concept possible.
Of course, in both of these scenarios there are ways to take a more introspective look at how Wi-Fi technology itself can be delivered in a more efficient fashion. Firstly, new technologies like 802.11n provide greater functionality – both in terms of throughput and reliability – relative to their predecessors, yet require the same amount of power. Specifically, a dual-radio 802.11n access point offers approximately 23 Mbps per watt whereas a similar 802.11a/g access point offers approximately 2.8 Mbps per watt. That’s almost an eight-fold improvement. Furthermore, providers like Cisco have delivered increased intelligence into the network with features like EnergyWise that allow for centralized control of network power consumption. The network can decrease the amount of power consumed by access points during off hours. Such enhancements further lower the overall energy consumption and cost of the wireless network.
In many ways, the pressure to lower costs and find operational efficiencies aligns well with an overall green strategy – due to the tight correlation with energy savings. However, this can only be true provided the methods to unlock energy savings are simple and intuitive. As we’ve learned, wireless helps with the greening of business through technology improvements like 802.11n that deliver greater performance per watt and improved network intelligence that optimizes power consumption. With tools such as these, being green can be easy for just about anyone – even a frog.
Kozup is senior manager, mobility solutions at Cisco.