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Are wireless networks more energy

Jul 02, 2023Jul 02, 2023

kokotewan -

Sustainability and decreased energy consumption are hot topics these days -- both at home and in business network settings. Larger enterprises often have energy management teams or contract out that functionality to try to lower power consumption by eliminating wasted light and HVAC usage.

But what about the network infrastructure itself? And, more specifically, what about the question of wired Ethernet versus Wi-Fi when it comes to potential energy savings? And what about resiliency as organizations consider the question of Ethernet versus Wi-Fi power savings? As with everything in networking, the answers are complicated.

Before Wi-Fi became the dominant network access method for most environments, PCs were tethered to the network switch ports by patch cables. And Ethernet switches only needed to be equipped with enough onboard operating power to keep Ethernet functionality going. At the time, Power over Ethernet (PoE) wasn't a thing, and fewer devices were on the network overall.

As networks and devices modernized, Ethernet switches also needed to provide operational power via PoE for VoIP phones, IP cameras and Wi-Fi access points (APs), and the overall number of wired and wireless client devices increased exponentially.

It's impossible to answer this question without situational context. Let's consider two scenarios:

Wi-Fi doesn't operate in a vacuum. Sometimes, it can consume less energy than the LAN connectivity paradigm it displaces. But, in other cases, any power savings are negated by other changes taking place in the environment at the same time.

One area related to power where Wi-Fi arguably has advantages is in designing power resiliency. When APs get their power from network switches, it becomes easy to plan for reliability. Key elements include staying within PoE budget for a switch, using dual power supplies on the switch and connecting to a decent uninterruptible power supply (UPS) on one side and street power on the other.

By reducing the number of switches needed because more end devices are on Wi-Fi, the budget can go to better switch power supplies and UPS appliances.

With every new wireless standard, the 802.11 Working Group introduces new power-saving features that work at the wireless protocol level to extend the life of client device batteries. A variety of techniques enable each client's wireless adapter to take a micronap frequently enough where battery life is extended and charging requirements are reduced. This is an area that gets a lot more developer attention than it ever did in the wired Ethernet realm.

In the aggregate, the latest Wi-Fi power-saving features should result in power consumption reduction per device over its lifetime, but then again, this can be rendered inconsequential by a huge increase in connected device counts.

Nothing is straightforward about the power efficiency paradigm when it comes to wired or wireless networking.