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AlcaLu Leads New Green Mission

Ray Le Maistre

LONDON -- Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s Bell Labs is leading a new initiative, dubbed Green Touch, to develop technology that can help make the world's networks 1,000 times more energy-efficient. (See Alcatel-Lucent Launches Green Touch.)

The idea is to develop, from scratch, a network framework, and the requisite technologies, that will reduce the power consumption of the world's communications networks (including the Internet) to such an extent that, even with the current and future dramatic growth of data and video traffic, the ICT (information and communication technologies) industry's carbon emissions and power costs will decrease in the future, instead of rising as they are at the moment.

The Green Touch consortium, which comprises 15 founding members, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), Freescale Semiconductor Inc. , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Laboratory for Electronics, and Samsung's Advanced Institute of Technology, as well as Bell Labs, has a "five-year quest to achieve sustainable networking," the group announced here today at a launch press conference.

So, as Spock might say, it's an initiative, Jim, but not as we know it.

But is it logical? [Ed. note: Enough with the Trekkie stuff... I'm an editor, dammit, not a miracle worker!]

Well, the goal is that the new framework and technologies will result in such a dramatic reduction in energy requirements that the amount of power required to run the world's current communications networks for one day will be enough to power future networks for three years.

That would result in a major cost reduction for operators, and lead to a major cut in carbon emissions. According to Gee Rittenhouse, head of research at Bell Labs and the initiative's leader, today's networks create 300 million tons of carbon dioxide gases each year.

"This is a game-changer for everyone," stated AlcaLu CEO Ben Verwaayen.

The initiative is led by Bell Labs because its scientists and engineers came up with the initial research that showed, in theory, that today's networks could be 10,000 times more energy efficient. That, though, is a theoretical limit that is not practical to aim for, stated Rittenhouse, so instead, the consortium is aiming for a target of a 1,000-fold reduction in power within five years. "Eco-sustainability is crucial for ICT," stated the Bell Labs man.

Funding will come from the consortium members and from governments. Verwaayen stressed that, as a research initiative, this isn't going to be a massive drain on anyone's financial resources, and that the total research cost would be in "tens of millions of whatever currency you want to use," with AlcaLu more than willing to put in its fair share.

The resulting intellectual property will be shared amongst the consortium's members, noted Rittenhouse, and any resulting technologies would go through the usual standards processes and industry adoption procedures.

Redesigns in the making?
What is unclear, though (even after questioning Rittenhouse and others involved in the initiative), is what can be expected of the global ICT industry if the project is successful. Do the Green Touch members expect the world's ICT players (all of which are invited to join the consortium) to redesign their products, networks, and strategies at untold cost? And what might the cost be?

Rittenhouse would say only that he expects the group to achieve its five-year goal, and that the subsequent demonstration of the resulting technologies will create "such a level of excitement" that it will be picked up and built upon "very quickly." The factor-of-1,000 efficiency gains will "lead to rapid adoption. The technologies we are talking about don't exist today... We want to create confidence in the industry" that such gains can be attained and to provide the initial capabilities that can act as a starting point for the industry.

Rittenhouse added that this initiative represents an opportunity for the ICT industry to work together as never before and, instead of just optimizing for growth, speed, and performance, to focus on optimizing for energy efficiency, too.

His colleague, Daniel Kilper, a member of the optical department's technical staff at Bell Labs, added that the overall aim of the initiative is to "set the industry down a new track... the track of energy efficiency," and that while there is a five-year target to deliver some results, "this is a long-term play."

All of which sounds very well intentioned, but somewhat unquantifiable. The big unknowns are how any resulting new technologies would be deployed and integrated into existing networks, what the benefits might be if there isn't widespread adoption, and what the actual business case for network operators will be, even if the resulting technologies can deliver unthinkable levels of energy efficiency.

But unless someone tries to achieve such admirable goals, we'll never know what the outcome might be.

To find out more about Green Touch, check out this Light Reading TV interview with Rittenhouse and Verwaayen.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 4:45:01 PM
re: AlcaLu Leads New Green Mission

I can't wait to see a router's consumption be reduced from say 100W today to 0.1W in five years! Given the know figures, such a router will have no Ethernet ports and will be switched off permanently. Now _that_ is power efficiency!

Does the initiative hold its meetings in Copenhagen?

Phil Morrison
Phil Morrison,
User Rank: Moderator
12/5/2012 | 4:44:58 PM
re: AlcaLu Leads New Green Mission

The claim is that the Internet operates at about a factor of 10,000 times more then the absolute "minimum" energy required. 

Experts from industry, academia, government and non profit research institutions around the world are working on new approaches for energy efficiency as well as new technologies to drive sustainable networks in the decades to come.

Will we see an internet router that consumes .1w in the next 5 years, your guess is as good as mine. That said how much energy do virtual routers consume? How many virtual routers are able to share the same Ethernet Interface you are referring to? 

The real question you probably need to ask yourself is "what is the Internet".  I would suggest that it extends beyond the Internet router you are currently focused on.




User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:44:57 PM
re: AlcaLu Leads New Green Mission

PC technology have had an amazing improvement in power efficiency since laptops became the major market. I dont have the technical insight, but my guess is that there are huge potential improvements to be made if telecom mfgs really make an effort. What is the average link load on a router - 1%? Less? 1000 times improvement seems outrageous, but 10 times should surely be doable. In the car industry, they would kill for such improvements.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:44:47 PM
re: AlcaLu Leads New Green Mission
I agree, an improvement of 1000 seems unreasonable. I have seen a reputable study though that indicates simply replacing all of the existing PSTN equipment with an all IP network will result in a 10:1 improvement with the equipment available today. There is a lot more involved here then just reduction in the power consumption of a router.
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