Global telecommunications networks may be a huge drain on our energy resources but technologies to combat this is in the works and should be ready for commercialisation by 2020, according to ICT consortium GreenTouch.
In April, the Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET), a joint-venture between Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs, the University of Melbourne, and the Victorian Government, released a report claiming wireless access network infrastructures across the world chews up more energy than datacentres.
GreenTouch is a consortium formed by a group of network operators, communications vendors, and researchers in 2010 to develop new technologies that will reduce the energy consumption of telecommunication networks. CEET is a part of this group.
After three years of research, GreenTouch said it has developed a variety of technologies that it claims can reduce global network energy consumption by up to 90 percent.
"We have a set of technologies and a portfolio of ideas that if we built products based on them we can handle traffic growth and still make energy consumption on networks go down by 90 percent," GreenTouch technical committee chair and head of green research at Bell Labs, Dr. Thierry Klein, said.
The consortium itself, however, is not interested in productising the technology — that is left up to individual members, he said.
GreenTouch's job is to 'de-risk' the technologies developed and not go beyond proof-of-concept so that vendors can take them to market themselves, Klein said.
"We will take the ideas to calculation, simulations and up to prototype laboratory demonstrations but we will not productise them — that's really left up to the members in GreenTouch," he said. "We just want to make sure we look at the next-generation of products, networks and know the possibilities and benefits."
"We don't just want to say 'here is a bunch of ideas but we don't really know what the benefits are' — the right decisions can be made on what you put in and how you develop the product."
GreenTouch aims to wrap up the 'de-risking' process by 2015 and the technology could, in principle, be implemented by 2020, according to CEET executive professor Rod Tucker.
"There is a lot of work to be done beyond GreenTouch," he said. "We're not providing products that can just be put into the network.
"This is a reinvention of the Internet and you don't just build the Internet overnight."
But the major caveat would be convincing telcos around the world to take on these new technologies. Being more environmentally-friendly is a nice and fluffy concept but being able to cut their electricity bills significantly may be the biggest driver for the adoption of GreenTouch technologies.
"We really look at this globally, say, if you look at countries like India, you simply don't have access to power — half the wireless base stations in India run off diesel generators," Klein said. "There is a big drive in the country to move away from the diesel generators and go to renewable.
"Even if you're not looking at the cost of electricity, the environmental impact, in some areas of the world, you just don't have access to power. If we can make the equipment more efficient — low power — then we are enabling some of the renewable [options]."
According to Klein, the technologies developed by GreenTouch will not impact network performance or quality of service (QoS).
"We will not compromise performance and QoS for energy savings," he said. "You can get incredible gains if you start doing that but we're not playing that game."