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Summary:

Bell Labs telecom researchers are out with a report that says communication networks are highly inefficient. They note that the networks that run our cell phones, broadband connections, and online infrastructure use a lot more energy than required.

The finding of a report from the telecom researchers at Bell Labs out this morning is basically: communication networks are highly inefficient. “Networks could be 10,000 times more energy efficient,” says the report and “today’s networks are optimized for capacity not energy.” In other words the communications networks that run our cell phones and broadband connections, and deliver us voice, video and the web, have been using a lot more energy than required.

That’s a problem because as more and more people in the world buy cell phones and computers, send text messages and surf the web  (the developing world, led by China, is getting connected fast) there will need to be more and more networks built out. As the report notes, the contribution of information communication technology to global energy consumption will double over the next decade.

Telecom gear maker Alcatel-Lucent (Bell Labs is the corporate research lab of Lucent) is launching an initiative to go along with these energy-deficient findings, and this morning launched the “Green Touch” initiative to invent technologies that can drive more efficient networks. The initiative’s goal is to develop tech that can make networks 1,000 times more efficient within five years, and founding members include AT&T, China Mobile, Telefonica, and Freescale among others.

The initiative itself seems pretty light and fluffy. Why does a network maker need a specific initiative to drive innovation in energy efficiency, when its customers (telecom service provider) could save money and be happier if they used less energy? Energy efficiency should be a competitive advantage of a product that is marketed to the telco and broadband customer — not a philanthropic effort.

The types of innovations needed to reduce network energy consumption — software, more efficient hardware — also don’t seem to be exactly bleeding edge technology. It’s not like the lab needs to develop a fuel cell or next-generation battery. I would speculate that much of the innovation is already out there, it just needs to be implemented. When it comes to the energy efficiency of networks, I would love to see a call to action, instead of a call for research.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: How Mobile Networks Can Cut Carbon

Image courtesy of JonJon2k8′s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.

By Katie Fehrenbacher

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  1. I definitively agree with you on the last (call for action, not research) – we definitively need more of action in any energy efficienci field – but I also disagree with you on the “philanthropic effort”. I mean, why not somenthing like this? I see nothing bad in this Green Touch initiative, and it also doesn’t do any harm to any other eventual initiative or action of this type, so why not?

    btw. you have great articles, I enjoy reading them.

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  2. Thanks @Perica. I agree I don’t think it does any harm, but I think the market is a much more efficient way of getting energy efficiency technology commercialized. Unlike renewable energy, which will probably need a cap and trade system and the externality of a carbon price, to drop in price, energy efficiency technology can already use the current market (with no carbon externality) to reduce long term energy costs. Why not use it.

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  3. Katie, Reliability and price are always going to be 100000x more important to the hardware purchaser than electrical efficiency. Reliable, Cheap, and Efficient: Pick two (or something like that)

    In other words, there are reasons these are simply PR initiatives and not “actionable” items– this market may not demand energy efficient hardware.

    “today’s networks are optimized for capacity not energy.” Yes, this is exactly the way it should be, at least while you are carrying my business-critical network traffic.

    I also think that you are wrong about your assumption that optimizing network power efficiency is not bleeding edge technology.

    The problem with “green” thinking is the consistent shortsighted assumption that small, easy, and no-cost changes are all it takes to transform the world; or in this case, reduce our telco power consumption by One Million percent. Laughable.

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    1. I’ll bet Google weighs all 3 (price, reliability & efficiency) pretty equally. After all, it’s operating cost (efficiency) that ultimately affects their bottom line the most.

      No reason why telcom networks can’t leverage all the advances in efficiency being driven by networks where its more critical.

      Imagine how small a footprint a typical central office or MSC could be if deployed using current day server-based technology vs. the dinosaur switches & transmission gear still used.

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  4. There is one group who seem to have how to make money out of energy and that is the scams market. They are rife everywhere, from DIY solar panels to who knows what with consumer power factor correction.

    But when it comes to small business we are dreadful, no skills, no time and everything still left switched on.

    I agree with you Katie, it is too easy to pontificate in the abstract of global vision, for in this we do not actually do anything. We sound good though!

    If we each turned what we could off each day, it would make a tangible difference.

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  5. [...] Networks Could Be 10,000 Times More Energy Efficient: Report (earth2tech.com) [...]

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