Broadband Power: 3 Generations, 3 Questions to Ask

By Dean Tryon, Alpha Technologies

In the not so distant past, the HFC network was largely used to deliver video programming to cable TV boxes in cutting-edge households. Now, a lot of those same households don’t even have TVs. Instead they are opting for a broadband Internet connection to access programming and other content on computers, smartphones, tablets and everything in between.

Approximately 800 million people all over the world use broadband to connect to the Internet and consume the content they’ve become accustomed to. Streaming video and music, VoIP calling, video conferencing and, yes, watching TV, are just a few examples. In North America alone, the use of broadband is projected to quadruple by 2020.

Broadband transmits data using electricity. It follows, then, that the electricity used for broadband in North America will also quadruple by 2020. Today, the region uses $1 billion worth of electricity for broadband; multiply that by four and it’s an astonishing $4 billion.

That level of energy use is simply unsustainable. If it continues to grow at that rate, subscribers will feel the pain in their wallets and through less reliable service. But what can be done to make sustainable growth a reality?

Part of the answer is a newer generation of broadband power supplies that are more efficient than previous generations. Service providers and operators should ask three important questions about broadband power use, and how the latest technology can help curb energy use.

1. What does the broadband power supply look like now?

The world’s broadband power supplies can be broken into three generations.

  • Generation No. 1 (1984-1997): Line efficiencies of approximately 86%, inverter efficiencies of approximately 76%
  • Generation No. 2 (1999-2011): Line efficiencies of approximately 89%, inverter efficiencies of approximately 84%
  • Generation No. 3 (2012-now): Line efficiencies up to 94%, inverter efficiencies up to 91%

As you might suspect, Generations 1 and 2 account for a large majority of the power supplies used by broadband providers today. In North America, it is estimated that up to 84% of power supplies are Generation 1 or 2, according to an Alpha study.

Moving to Generation 3 can help slow broadband energy use and avoid rate increases and service downgrades for customers.

2. How does Generation 3 achieve its energy efficiency upgrades?

One of the main ways Generation 3 saves energy is by maximizing network efficiency. There are three places, in particular, that it achieves this efficiency:

  • Greater Reach: Each power supply has a greater reach than previous generations, thanks to output voltage and regulation. This allows for reduced network cable loss and the use of fewer power supplies.
  • Line Efficiency: Generation 3 transformers improve line efficiency, which reduces energy use. They do this through intelligent tap switching that happens at the input itself, to minimize secondary saturation energy loss and maximize performance.
  • Inverter Efficiency: Generation 3 moves inverter windings to the output side of the ferroresonant transformer. This separates the inverter from the input winding to minimize conversion losses in the transformer itself.

3. How much money can be saved?

Broadband operators know that each individual power supply doesn’t consume much energy. In fact, the 5% efficiency gains we’re talking about for Generation 3 may only amount to savings of $60 a year per power supply (at 11 cents per kilowatt), according to Alpha.

Of course, there are a lot of power supplies distributed across a network. So even the modest savings per power supply add up quickly as 100, 200 or more are employed across a network. In fact, over a network of 200 power supplies, the annual savings in power costs can be more than $11,000.

Broadband is truly an amazing technology. It has shrunk the world, allowing people everywhere to communicate, collaborate and understand each other. Like many other revolutionary technologies, it has a cost: power.

By upgrading to Generation 3 technology, broadband suppliers can help cut their energy use and energy cost, ensuring that the industry stays on the cutting edge for years to come.

Dean Tryon is the product manager at Alpha Technologies.

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