Global warming has been taken extremely seriously around the world and various countries and industry sectors are working to lower their impact on our environment. The ICT sector brings constantly new services and solutions that help other sectors to realize their goals on resource efficiency and sustainability.
Yet, we must also look at how the ICT sector itself, through these various services, uses resources and affects our goals towards a sustainable society. ICT-based services need hardware to process and deliver the data and software to create the services. The hardware uses electricity, and manufacturing of equipment uses materials and energy; and naturally shipping hardware around the world is not free either.
In this article, we discuss the sustainability of the Netradar solution, and why there is no better solution in terms of sustainability.
Netradar is purely a software-based solution and based on three logical components. First, we need an agent measuring the network quality. We currently focus on Android phones and offer an SDK or a separate app to our customers. We can support other end points too when the need arises.
Secondly, our methodology is based on a deep understanding of latency and its behavior and therefore we need latency measurement servers. Our servers are virtual and highly optimized. They can and should be deployed in virtual environments making use of existing data center platforms. There is no real benefit of deploying our latency measurements on barebone servers.
Thirdly, as in data collection and processing systems, there is a need for a backend database system. Netradar can be deployed in e.g. Google’s Cloud, Amazon AWS or on a private cloud. We can even push our data into an existing data lake from where it can be further pushed to support current analytics processes. Thus there is no need to install expensive new hardware to take full advantage of the Netradar analytics.
Many legacy solutions use various speed tests to try to measure network performance. The challenge with all speed tests is that the test servers need to be built in such a way that they never become a bottleneck in terms of performance results. Any solution must make sure that the speed test always reflects the maximum performance of the network and the servers should not have any impact on this. In a world of high-speed networks, like fiber and 5G, setting up this speed test infrastructure is very costly and difficult. The fundamental challenge is that you never know beforehand how fast the network is, and therefore need to over allocate capacity so that the performance result is trustworthy. Think of 5G for instance, a user could get a top speed of anything between 10Mbps and 1 Gbps, which makes a 100-fold difference.
This inherent problem of speed measurements forces the infrastructure to be built with excess capacity just in case, and typically barebone servers are needed to make the performance results at least somewhat trustworthy. Netradar does not have this serious shortcoming in terms of resource efficiency and cost of running the infrastructure.
Minimal Energy Usage
An important business decision when investing in any new product or service is the CAPEX vs OPEX analysis. A system might be reasonable to buy but to operate it increases the lifetime costs. In ICT, the OPEX is mostly about energy and with the increasing energy prices, the OPEX part of the calculation becomes increasingly large.
Netradar is a highly optimized and sustainable solution. Let’s look at the three components of the system from the energy usage perspective:
End point measurement agent
Netradar is collecting data primarily from customers’ Android phones. IOS could be technically supported but since the APIs are very limited, any Apple product would not help at all in network performance analysis (you can contact me for further details why this is so). As we integrate with various apps and run on the customer’s device (everything anonymized as GDPR has been our guideline for years), we simply must be extremely careful in how much we affect the consumer’s device and its energy consumption. Netradar analyses customer’s own data traffic. When the device is being used, its display is on and radio is transmitting data, and only then Netradar is active. The added energy consumption of Netradar at this stage is extremely small, well below 1%. When the consumer is not using the device, Netradar sleeps and does not consume energy.
Another important point is the amount of data transferred to measure network quality. Netradar uses small latency measurements to perform the analysis. Data is gathered on the end point and pushed from time to time to the backend. The combined data usage of both the latency measurements and the data upload is on average just 3MB/month. This is less than e.g. one view of a web page. With speed tests, we can estimate that the data usage is roughly the same as the indicated bit rate in bytes. For example, if I had a 200Mbps download and a 30Mbps upload, my device consumed 200+30MB of data, and if I had a 1 Gbps download result in 5G network, I used 1 GB of data. This data usage not only affects the customer’s device in terms of energy consumption but also the mobile network will need to transfer that artificial test data. All this consumes a lot of energy, and naturally consumes capacity from the other users of the network.
The data usage of the latency measurements is extremely small. We have calculated that an average user consumes about 1.5MB/month of data to measure latency. This means that the impact is very small on the end device, on the wireless network and on the server infrastructure. Moreover, as our server software is highly optimized multi-threaded Linux binary written in C++, it runs very well even in a simple virtual server, and naturally can be run as a container. Thus, the resources needed to run our measurement infrastructure are minimal, almost non-existing.
Back-end data storage
Our system is flexible and can accommodate various different deployment architectures and data storage environments. The simplest deployment uses the cloud services of Google or Amazon, and benefits from their hard work on green data centers and distributed computing. We can also deploy the backend on a private cloud or even push the raw data to an existing data lake environment. The computing and storage requirements scale with the amount of data collected. Old data can be aggregated into trends and removed, and newer data can be used in deeper studies. Our customers are free to define data retention periods and thereby the effect on the backend resources needed.
In summary, the Netradar system is the world’s most sustainable mobile measurement system offering 24/7 analysis of end users’ connectivity. The amount of data collected by Netradar is huge while at the same time the whole system consumes very little energy. No devices need to be deployed anywhere as the system is fully virtual and software based. If sustainability is in your agenda, but you still want to understand network quality down to the smallest detail, there is only one solution worth considering.
Another important impact of Netradar is what it can offer to the overall sustainability goals for an operator. Firstly, there is no more need to run drive-through tests around a country. Secondly, having a wide and deep understanding of your network will be critical in optimizing the hardware deployment. Every base station and network node consumes energy and the less hardware there is, the lower the energy consumption. Yet, the amount of hardware deployed must match the needs of the customers and their expectations. With the Netradar solution wireless operators can invest where it matters the most.