2014 Winner: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Technology
iRadio Lab Develops Environmentally Friendly Radio Systems
Communication networks are growing at an increasingly rapid rate and consuming a massive amount of energy. Understanding the urgent need for more sustainable technologies is Dr. Fadhel Ghannouchi.
As a University of Calgary professor, Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) Strategic Chair and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Green Radio Systems, Ghannouchi is at the forefront of improving the sustainability of radio and communications systems.
“With the trend and evolution of technology I have been convinced that we cannot grow without watching how much energy we are consuming,” Fadhel says.
Minimizing the Footprint
Currently information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure consumes 5 per cent of global energy consumption. This figure is expected to rise by as much as 20 per cent in the next three to four years.
Addressing this growing issue is a key aim of Ghannouchi’s research. His work is geared towards the development of green and smart radio systems that can be used across multiple applications and various standards of communication, broadcast and sensor networks.
In 2005 Ghannochi founded the state-of-the-art Intelligent RF Radio Technology Laboratory (iRadio Lab). Since then, he has successfully cut energy consumption of typical fourth-generation wireless transmitters by 50 per cent without compromising quality or speed. He has also developed new technology allowing three wireless operators to share and use the same base station.
The power amplifier is the most critical and expensive subsystem in all wireless and satellite communication base stations. The power amplifier dictates the overall performance of the transmitters. Across the globe, wireless networks consume about 120 terawatt hours of electricity per year, with 50 to 70 per cent of this being consumed by the power amplifiers. Ghannouchi’s research seeks to reduce this consumption, which is a critical issue in ICT infrastructure.
“It’s an area where if you make a contribution and make any reduction this will impact the whole system,” explains Ghannouchi.
Through his green amplification solutions, wireless operators on a global level could save more than 50 terawatt hours of energy per year. A reduction of this size would reduce their carbon footprint by 20 million tons and cut energy expenses by about $16 billion.
Ghannouchi says that traditionally people either work on the analogue electronics or in signal processing and these groups typically don’t communicate back and forth. “One of our strengths in the lab and at the University of Calgary is to try and bridge these two areas to try and see the problem from different perspectives.”
The success of this approach is seen in the world-class advances Ghannouchi and his team are making in the future of radio frequency and wireless technologies.
The Next Generation
As an educator Ghannouchi has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. With his guidance and mentorship, these students are set to become leaders in the next generation of communication research. Ghannouchi finds a reward in knowing that training students in a technical point of view means their work is contributing to a good cause.
“If they can contribute to ease this problem, it is good for all people. I feel good because they try to solve a technical problem but at the same time they solve a society problem.”
Ghannouchi adds he is proud of his students because they are taking their thesis ideas and advances to the commercial market, ultimately making a contribution to industry but also positively impacting the environment.
Both Ghannouchi’s world-class research and excellence in teaching are having a profound effect on raising Alberta’s status as a leading hub of research and technology in the development of sustainable communication systems.