Industry group to apply green touch to telecom

Organized by Bell Labs, Green Touch group to bring together experts from industry, education, and government to make communications networks more energy efficient.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

A new industry group is hoping that the same amount of energy now used to power the Internet and other global networks for one day will eventually power them for three years.

Unveiled by its organizer Bell Labs on Monday, the global consortium, dubbed Green Touch, has set a challenging agenda for itself--to plan and demonstrate the necessary technologies to make today's networks 1,000 times more energy efficient than they are today. The group's deadline is 2015, giving it just five years in which to determine and show how to dramatically slash the carbon emissions from all global networks.

The group says its agenda is fueled by two issues: 1) the world's networks are eating up more energy at a faster pace as we increasingly demand more from them; and 2) research has shown that today's networks use more energy than they need to. If left unchecked, the industry's energy usage is projected to double over the next 10 years. Yet based on its own analysis, Bell Labs believes our global networks can actually be 10,000 times more efficient than they are now.

"Over the next decade billions more people will upload and share video, images, and information over public and private networks as we communicate with each other in new, rich ways," said Gee Rittenhouse, vice president of research at Bell Labs and consortium lead, in a statement. We also expect ICT (information and communication technology) usage to dramatically increase as other industries use networks to reduce their own carbon footprints. This naturally leads to an exponential growth in ICT energy consumption which we, as an industry, have to jointly address."

With experts from industry, education, and government labs spearheading the group, Green Touch is striving to plan and create the hardware and networking platforms necessary to achieve its goal. Toward that end, the group is also inviting other players in information and communication technology to join its cause.

As incentive, Green Touch sees several benefits for its members, including a huge reduction in energy usage, collaboration between and access to top experts across the world, research into new technologies, and the ability to introduce new ideas and products to the marketplace.

"What we are witnessing is a fundamental shift in thinking about ICT from a focus on optimizing networks for maximum capacity to optimizing them for energy efficiency," said Bell Labs President Jeong Kim in a statement. "The consortium we are forming serves as a major milestone along the path toward a future where the potential of communications networks to meet the demands of their users and benefit society is inextricably linked to our success in achieving environmental sustainability by reducing energy consumption."

Among the group's current and founding members are Bell Labs, AT&T, and China Mobile from industry; MIT and Stanford University from the academic world; and The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control from government. At its first meeting in February, the group will discuss its ambitious five-year plan as well as the roles and responsibilities of each member.