11. April 2023
Matthias Wagener

Streaming - Folge 03 -
Netzwerkinfrastruktur

28% of greenhouse gas emissions from streaming are attributed to network infrastructure. This includes not only the materials used to make cables, transmission towers, and other technical equipment but also the type of internet connection we use. The power consumption during streaming depends largely on whether we stream via Wi-Fi or mobile data and the infrastructure used accordingly.

In general, streaming via a Wi-Fi or LAN connection causes fewer emissions than via a mobile connection. If it’s foreseeable that there won’t be a Wi-Fi connection available at the time of streaming, it’s worth downloading videos or music while in range of a Wi-Fi connection. This information is especially important for those who use StreamOn offers, such as those offered by Telekom. It may be worth downloading your favorite playlist or a few episodes of an interesting podcast to your phone before you set off.

Streaming with mobile data via the 3G network has a significant environmental impact. Watching a 90-minute movie, which is still the average length today, over the 3G network causes a CO2 emission of about 135 grams. With today’s 5G standard, however, the CO2 emissions for the duration of the same movie are only 7.5 grams!

Most films are, of course, streamed at home via Wi-Fi. With a copper cable connection, 90 minutes of streaming causes a CO2 emission of 6 grams. If you’re lucky enough to have a fiber optic connection, you can reduce the environmental impact of CO2 when streaming this average-length film to 3 grams.

The fact that a fiber optic connection is comparatively environmentally friendly compared to a copper cable connection is due, among other things, to the raw material extraction and production for copper itself. Copper mines, especially those in South America, consume huge amounts of water and release harmful chemicals, making the water unusable for the local population and contaminating soils. In addition, there are environmental impacts from long transport routes. The fibers for the production of fiber optic cables are made from quartz sand. Although sand is not an infinite resource, it occurs naturally in many sand and rock forms, including in Central Europe, and sand mining is much more environmentally friendly than copper mining. Also, less material is required for the production of fiber optic cables than for the production of copper cables.

However, there is still much to be done in terms of sustainability in sand mining, especially through more careful handling of the seemingly infinite resource of sand and its mining areas and through consistent recycling.

Even in operation, fiber optic networks have a significant advantage over other transmission technologies due to their significantly lower power consumption. This is because fiber optic transmission consumes up to 17 times less power than VDSL and super vectoring. On behalf of the Broadband Communications Association (BREKO), the Technical University of Central Hessen (THM) examined the sustainability of various internet access technologies. The study shows that pure fiber-optic networks, up to the apartment, consume up to 6 times less electricity in operation than copper-based cable connections.

Although the expansion of the fiber-optic network is ultimately of high ecological importance because it generates fewer environmentally harmful emissions, Germany still does not fare well in comparison to other countries when it comes to the use of this technology.

According to the “European FTTH/B Market Panorama 2022” by the FTTH Council Europe, Germany ranked 35th out of a total of 37 countries surveyed in Europe as of September 2021.
So there is still much to do when it comes to connecting households, offices, and buildings to the fiber-optic network.

However, if you are one of the lucky ones who can have a “Fiber-To-The-Home” connection, you can consciously choose to stream in an environmentally friendly way by choosing it over the copper cable connection.

It is evident that environmental impact can be significantly reduced by new technologies. However, it cannot be neglected that even when introducing new standards, such as the recent introduction of 5G, infrastructure facilities must be replaced or upgraded, and we will eventually be forced to replace our end devices due to these innovations.
Our own impatience also contributes to this. We always want faster networks with higher bandwidth to be a few milliseconds faster or to achieve even better picture quality. Infrastructure must, therefore, be constantly adapted. Each new mobile standard also produces a lot of waste and emissions.

Spoiler:

In the next episode of our streaming series, it's up to us as end-users. Because the vast majority of CO2 emissions from streaming come from our end devices. We will address the question of how we can reduce environmental impact through our purchasing decisions and our responsible use of laptops, smartphones, and TVs.

RELATED ARTICLES

Jan 2023

Streaming – Episode 01 – Time Travel

What impact does our streaming behaviour have on the environment and what can we do better in the future? In episode 1 of our new blogpost series on streaming, we take a look back - on how we spent the end of the year, how it all began and how cloud computing became a cloud.

Feb 2023

Streaming – Episode 02 – Data Centres

In episode 02 of our streaming series, which shows ways to curb the carbon footprint of streaming, we look at the role of data centres and their impact on the climate and environment. Is there potential for savings, what opportunities are data centres offering for an energy-efficient use and what are streaming providers doing for more sustainable streaming in terms of data centres?