Modern telecommunications networks globally are responsible for the consumption of some 300 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to Alcatel-Lucent. Reducing the carbon footprint of telecom networks is the goal of Alcatel-Lucent's (NYSE:ALU) new Green Touch effort which includes a consortium of academic, industry and government partners.
The Green Touch effort is being led by Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs research division and has been given the goal of reducing the power used in telecom networking gear by a factor of a thousand.
"The sheer fact that we get so many people on board (the network) every single year, means that the total CO2 emissions as an absolute term, is going up," Ben Verwaayen, Alcatel-Lucent's CEO, said during a morning press conference. "If we don't do something radical it will go up even further."
Bell Labs researchers have estimated that the bare minimum amount of energy that is required to enable the network to function is actually 10,000 times less than what is actually used today. Gee Rittenhouse, head of research at Bell Labs, noted during the press conference that a more realistic target for reducing power consumption while maintaining performance and network quality was likely a reduction of 1,000 times current usage.
"Imagine the amount of energy it takes the global network to operate for one day," Rittenhouse said. "If we had this new network, the same amount of power that it takes to power the network for one day today would represent three years of power for the new network."
Alcatel-Lucent did not provide any specific technical details on how they plan to actually achieve the thousand fold reduction in power. Green Touch is being led by Alcatel-Lucent, but involves a consortium of participants including AT&T, MIT, Freescale and China Mobile in an effort to figure out the best way to reduce power.
"We know it's possible, but we don't know quite how yet," Rittenhouse said.
One of the key areas of focus for Alcatel-Lucent's Green Touch will be on wireless.
"The physics are clear, you have an antenna and if you broadcast a watt of power to a wide area, I'm broadcasting to an area where the user is very localized, so 99 percent of the energy is not utilized," Rittenhouse said. "Whereas if I actually take the same watt and put it on fiber or something that confines the energy really well, I can do much better."
There are multiple networking industry efforts already underway to help reduce power. Networking giant Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) has its Energy Efficient Ethernet underway at the IEEE.
The multiple vendor participation in Green Touch is key to the efforts' success according to at least one partner.
"As a semiconductor supplier we sit at the bottom of the food chain," Roger Noble, Operator relations at Freescale said. "The holistic approach to solving this problem is crucial."
While multiple vendors and groups are participating in the Green Touch effort, it's not precisely clear how much the project will cost.
"On behalf of Alcatel-Lucent shareholders, this is a great investment," Alcatel-Lucent CEO V Verwaayen said .
"This is not about huge sums of money, it's about working together with the best brains the industry can foster. We'll have hundreds of scientists, tens of millions of whatever currency you want to think of, and I think we'll be proud to spend our fair share of that."
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the internet.com network.