Green WiFi

Accelerating digitization along with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are both critical objectives for the European Union at this time. The modern generations of fixed and mobile network technologies FTTH and 5G can make significant contributions to digitization as well as improving energy efficiency compared with legacy technologies. However, both are likely to require the latest Next Generation WiFi technology (WiFi 6) indoor as a cordless tail to enable them to exploit their full potential.

In this study, we explore how WiFi 6 and WiFI 6E can contribute to new applications which help to reduce CO2 emissions. We also analyse the energy consumption of WiFi 6 and 6E and examine how this new generation technology will support innovative mass-market applications such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.

The COVID pandemic has sharpened awareness of the importance and need for Very High Capacity Networks. However, at the same time, increased use of remote working, the trend towards cloud computing as well as e-learning and e-health services, have highlighted an important additional challenge – namely that Very High Capacity Networks also need indoor infrastructure as a complement. After all, what is the advantage of having gigabit speeds available in the basement of a building or even up to the front door, when due to a lack of a performant indoor infrastructure, the bandwidths received by end-users are limited to a few megabits per second. It should also be noted that wireless connectivity is often a necessity, because many devices used inside buildings do not have a wired connection, either because they are new and their presence was not foreseen in the original wiring plans (e.g. sensors) or they are mobile by nature (i.e. cordless phones, smartphones, tablets etc.). The availability of Next Generation WiFi is therefore essential to implement the vision for a European Gigabit society.

According to Cisco, by 2023 in Western Europe 69% of all networked devices will be wired or connected over WiFi and the remaining 31% of networked devices will be mobile-connected. New innovative applications such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are likely to drive increased requirements for bandwidth and quality in indoor infrastructure. Against this background, freeing up additional spectrum in the 6 GHz band (480 MHz) for WiFi can be considered as a first and crucial step to address the envisaged bandwidth demand. In the coming years it will be essential to avoid any regulatory barrier or obstacle which might hamper the development and uptake of new innovative services.

As regards the CO2 footprint, the total GHG emissions of WiFi account for only a very small share of the ICT sector which itself accounts for about 4% of total GHG emissions from all sources. According to literature and interviews, the power consumption of WiFi 6 is comparable with the technologies that preceded it. However, higher data rates of WiFi 6 lead to significantly improved energy efficiency, enabling more data to be transmitted while the input of energy stays constant. Furthermore, using the new deep sleep mode (Target Wake Time, TWT) in coordination with the applications can reduce power consumption considerably. Thus, WiFi 6 is significantly more powerful in terms of data capacity and speed and of higher energy efficiency compared with previous WiFi generations.

At the same time, WiFi enabled applications (“use cases”) can help to limit GHG emissions in a range of sectors, with significant potential particularly in the fields of remote working and learning, e-Health, buildings and transport. This means that, when the knock-on effects are also taken into account, WiFi 6 and 6E could have a significant net positive effect on the environment.

WiFi requires sufficient frequency space to provide for future bandwidth needs. These bandwidth requirements should be provided well in advance of the increase in demand, enabling suppliers to develop and building owners to provide investment security. Today the EU approach for WiFi 6E with 500 MHz in the 6 GHz band lags significantly behind when compared with the approach to 1,200 MHz taken by other regions such as America and Asia.

In conclusion, WiFi 6 and 6E could make a significant contribution to the GHG emission reduction goals of European Member States, at a time when bandwidth demands are increasing. At the same time, WiFi 6 and 6E should facilitate the widespread uptake of new applications which in turn are associated with significant added value for business and society.

The study is available for download.

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Dr Thomas Plückebaum
Phone: +49 2224 9225-20
t.plueckebaum(at)wik.org