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January 11, 2010
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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