Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Green communications initiative

Alcatel yesterday launched a communications industry consortium with the aim of dramatically reducing the energy used in communications networks.

Called Green Touch (and with its own web site – www.greentouch.org), the group aims to deliver, by 2015, the architecture, specifications and roadmap — and demonstrate key components — needed to reduce communications energy consumption per user by a factor of 1000 from current levels. The initiative also offers the potential to generate new technologies and new areas of industry.

The problem is that today’s networks are optimised for performance.  To be optimised for energy efficiency implies a different design and architecture and that’s what the consortium plans to address.

Alcatel believes the target is achievable because a fundamental analysis by Bell Labs of the underlying components of ICT networks and technologies (optical, wireless, electronics, processing, routing, architecture, etc.) and a study of their physical limits has shown that today’s ICT networks have the potential to be 10,000 times more efficient.

There is certainly scope to make considerable energy savings.  ICT accounts for around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and of that fixed-line telecommunications account for about 15%, mobile contributes an additional 9% and LAN and office telecommunications about 7%.

Figure 1


It’s not a huge amount, but ICT usage is expected to expand rapidly over the coming decade, especially in developing countries, and communications will be a major contributor to growth.  Just think about the expansion of the internet to manage rapidly expanding high-bandwidth traffic, software-as-a-service, additional mobile functionality, videoconferencing (replacing travelling), and the possible exponential growth of machine-to-machine communications through smart meters and the Internet of Things.  There is a danger that energy use could spiral if unchecked.

In addressing the issue the Green Touch consortium is bringing together industry, academia and government labs.  Founding members include:

• Service Providers:  AT&T, China Mobile, Portugal Telecom, Swisscom, Telefonica

• Academic Research Labs:  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), Stanford University’s Wireless Systems Lab (WSL), the University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES)

• Government and Nonprofit Research Institutions: The CEA-LETI Applied Research Institute for Microelectronics (Grenoble, France), imec (Headquarters: Leuven, Belgium), The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA)

• Industrial Labs: Bell Labs, Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), Freescale Semiconductor

Membership in the forum is open with no conditions – all ICT companies are encouraged to join.  The first meeting of the consortium will take place in February.

This sounds like an ambitious but necessary (and perhaps inevitable) initiative.  Whilst ICT’s most valuable role will be in helping the rest of the economy reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is the danger that it’s own energy use will also spiral upwards.  If ICT is going to help re-structure the economy then it would do well to start with its own industry, which is what the consortium is trying to do.  It needs more IT/networking companies by the look of it, though. 

Join up now.

© The Green IT Review

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