FTTP FTW! New Research: Full Fibre Most Energy-Efficient Connectivity Method

At TalkTalk Business, we believe businesses are better built on Fibre, which is why we’re committed to delivering a Full Fibre future for the UK. As we enter the age of hybrid working, robust resilient connectivity is the key to keeping our new data-hungry world turning, and Fibre is the optimum way to deliver this connectivity.

The pandemic has accelerated the widespread adoption of digital resources and services by businesses in every sector. But while empowering UK businesses and giving them the tools they need to keep moving forward in these challenging times is central to our mission, we believe it’s vital to do so in a way that’s sustainable. Of course, we want to play our part in helping the UK build back better, but we also want to make sure that we build back responsibly. And that’s why we’re delighted that recent research demonstrates that Full Fibre is the most energy-efficient form of connectivity, backing up what we already knew.

A new study commissioned by one of Europe’s top wire and cable producers compared the energy efficiency of Full Fibre to other fixed line technologies. The Prysmian Group, who carried out the research on behalf of Europacable, sought to evaluate overall energy consumption of Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC), a method employed by our competitors.

For those who want a quick summary, as you might expect FTTP uses energy much more efficiently than FTTC and HFC. In fact, when factoring in the power required to run the access networks and the electricity required to run the on-premise equipment (i.e. modems and routers), FTTP used around 40% less energy to power compared to HFC.

If you’d like to find out more about the study, we go into a little more detail below…

The researchers used a model based on six regions in Germany, assuming 100% take-up with 50Mbps as the minimum data rate. The study also examined two different types of FTTP – Point-to-Point and Gigabit Passive Optical Networks (GPON). GPON is the method TalkTalk uses, and hereon referred to as FTTP.

Network Elements

Inevitably, when comparing the energy consumption of the different forms of connectivity, there are numerous variables to consider, not least the active network elements that each require.

HFC networks need the most active network elements (in this scenario, 794 fibre nodes and 12 cable modem termination systems (CMTS)), followed by FTTC (538 active street cabinets and six central offices). FTTP, on the other hand, needed the lowest number of active network elements, with 36 Points of Presence (PoP), meaning that it required the least energy to power its access network, by a significant margin.

The results show that HFC access network needed 114kW and FTTC needed 142kW, while FTTP required just 19kW – roughly 7.5 times lower.

Customer Premises Equipment

Of course, using the access network in order to actually connect to the internet requires modems and routers which also use energy. When analysing energy usage for customer premises equipment (CPE), the researchers found that HFC network used the most energy (456kW) and FTTC used the least (253kW). While FTTP ranked second here (341kW), improving results here is relatively straightforward: optimise and enhance CPE to reduce energy consumption.

Examining the total power consumption of access network and CPE energy consumption figures, FTTP comes out on top again, using 360kW. When compared to FTTC (396kW) and HFC in particular (569kW), it’s clear the Full Fibre is the most energy efficient by some margin.

Annual Energy Consumption

By normalising the energy consumption to the population of the model region used in the study, the per capita demand is between 56 kWh (FTTP) and 88 kWh (HFC) each year (between 5% and 8% of the annual energy consumption of a 4-person household).

So, what does that mean for the environment? Well, in terms of carbon emissions the difference is significant. The results showed that FTTP would produce 1.7 tons per year and per capita, compared to HFC which produced 2.7 tons – almost 60% more emissions than Full Fibre.

FTTP FTW

It should be noted that this simulation compares usage of different forms of connectivity at 50Mbps. The world has changed so much this year alone, and data usage is continually increasing, and while 50Mbps is perhaps not reflective of typical real-world online behaviours, the principle that FTTP connectivity is the most energy-efficient method holds true.

In the coming years, demand for bandwidth will continue to increase in order to support the data-hungry ways of working which are fast becoming ubiquitous. While the findings of this study confirm FTTP’s superior energy-efficiency, what’s particularly encouraging from a sustainability perspective, is that as the required performance increases, so too does the gap between Full Fibre and the other, less energy-efficient technologies.

The Path to Net Zero

Climate change is perhaps the most significant challenge facing our society, and if we’re to avert a climate crisis, we must take steps to build a net zero carbon economy, now. On this journey to net zero, Full Fibre is going to play a crucial role.

It’s important to acknowledge that laying a brand new FTTP network will itself be a source of emissions and there will be an inevitable transition period while old legacy cables are removed, and the new fibre cables are installed.

While carbon emissions of this nature – often referred to as ‘embedded carbon’ – are unavoidable , it’s reassuring to know that the end result will be a network built for the future and running on few emissions than its predecessors. And what’s more, once this infrastructure is in place and of lightning-fast connectivity is available to all, it will enable far-reaching behavioural changes which will lead to further environmental benefits.

For instance, buildings currently account for 35% of CO2 emissions in the EU. But this next generation of Fibre connectivity will enable smart technologies to be more widely utilised, so that more and more buildings – and ultimately entire cities – will become increasingly energy efficient. And we’ve already seen the positive effects of significantly fewer cars on the road – a trend that will increase in the future as hybrid working practices become the norm.

Ultimately, if we’re to build a better-connected society that’s able to make the most of the technology available – and to do so sustainably – then Full Fibre really is the way to go.

To find out more about the study and explore even more of the technical detail, you can find Prysmian’s research here. And if you’d like to learn more about what TalkTalk is to doing to help the UK build back responsibly, click here.