Wireless Internet Routers
Tim Hunt looks at ethical issues in the manufacture and use of wireless routers.
No longer are our household devices tethered to the phone socket: we can now waltz with them freely around the house, spinning gaily as we browse the web. Liberty is truly ours!
I am of course being facetious. There is only a small tangible benefit to be derived from an upgrade to a wireless router for the casual internet user - other than the elimination of another unsightly grey cable. As with many electronic devices, incessant upgrading is leading to a mountain of e-waste and replacing your old router will of course exacerbate the environmental problems associated with this.
Like all electronic devices, routers contain a plethora of harmful chemicals from plastic coverings to heavy metals and are covered by the WEEE directive. They should not be disposed of in the usual household waste but taken separately to a local authority or retailer site.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, leaving devices constantly running even when they’re not in use is to blame for the short-fall in the UK’s 2020 target to cut domestic electricity emissions by 34%. In fact, according to their most recent report, the number of domestic gadgets and appliances in the average UK household increased by three and a half times between 1990 and 2009 and overall energy consumption from consumer electronic goods rose by more than 600% between 1970 and 2009.(1)
The wireless router is only a small part of this energy usage matrix. But assuming you do not turn your router off, you are likely to be using 0.24kWh per day and 87.6kWh annually, costing approximately £10 per year to run and emitting 48kg of CO2.2 Over the whole of the UK, this would equate to £150 million of electricity annually.
It seems that manufacturers are slowly beginning to address the power consumption of their devices. British Telecom’s New Home Hub for broadband requires a third less power than previous models, according to BT, as it adjusts power consumption based on use. This is likely to cost around £6 a year to run – down from £9.26 for its previous model.(1)
D-Link have also claimed to have introduced power-saving technology. The D-Link green range includes several green features such as automatically switching off unused ports, varying power by cable length, and a fan-less design which all save power and money. The company says it can make energy savings of 34% but it does not provide power usage figures, making its claims difficult to verify. Its models also try to avoid certain hazardous chemicals (complying with the EU’s RoHS Directive) and use green packaging made from recycled materials and soy ink.
Router manufacturers tend not to publish any energy usage figures, and are unfortunately not obliged to do so. This makes choosing the lowest energy ones very difficult. We urge regulators to consider mandatory energy use labelling and the regulation of maximum power settings in use and in sleep modes.
The Blue Angel label is available for wireless routers but no models currently carry the certification. Benefits of certification would include: lower electric energy consumption, especially in standby mode and with functions disabled, technical adaptability of the equipment by updatable and expandable software, low electromagnetic radiation from WLAN operation and avoidance of environmentally hazardous materials.
- If you have a cable connection (such as Virgin Media) then you’ll need a broadband router (also known as a cable router).
- If you have an ADSL connection (e.g. BT, TalkTalk, O2) then you need an ADSL modem router.
- Remember to set up your security so people nearby can’t use your connection for anything dodgy!
- If you have an older computer you may need to upgrade your computer or buy an external wireless adaptor to use wireless. However you can still use your ethernet cable from the wireless router if you need to.
As you can see Apple come bottom of the table with a score of 6.5. The company scores relatively well for its supply chain management but then badly for workers rights. This is because the company has policies in place to combat workers’ rights issues in its supply chain but in reality it is failing to do so. This has been demonstrated most recently by its use of the Chinese company Foxconn, whose workers’ rights abuses have been well documented in this magazine and beyond.
BT has the next lowest ranking on the table with a score of 7.5. This company is one of only two to score well for environmental reporting but it does not fare so well across the board. Notably, it was recently mentioned in an ActionAid report on tax havens. They uncovered that BT Group had 572 subsidiaries, 26% of which were in tax havens.(5)
Belkin are next on the table with a score of 9. This company scores worst for all its policies (toxics, environmental reporting and supply chain management). The company was in the headlines last year when a business development representative of Belkin had been caught soliciting fake positive reviews on Amazon for one of its routers which had a poor reputation from users of the website.(4)
D-Link scores 9.5. D-Link scores badly in terms of policy and picks up an extra mark for supplying wireless technology to the military.
Linksys is owned by Cisco Systems who have been criticised for enabling human rights abuses in China. They are currently being sued by a human rights group for aiding the tracking and torture of people in China.(6) The company also helped build an ambitious new surveillance project in China that is composed of a citywide network of as many as 500,000 cameras that human-rights advocates warn could target political dissent. The company is also accused of training Chinese officials in internet surveillance. Earlier in the year, Boston Common Asset Management, LLC divested of its holdings in Cisco Systems stock due in part to the company’s weak human rights risk management and poor response to investor concerns.(6)
Netgear, Thomson, Technicolor and Edimax all score worst for policies on toxics, environmental reporting and supply chain management.