Networks Could Be 10,000 Times More Energy Efficient: Report

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.

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