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Communications sector aims for 1,000-fold efficiency improvement

GPS on PDAOK, here’s an eye-popping stat for you: the amount of wireless data handled by just AT&T alone exploded by more than 6,732 per cent (PDF) over just the past 13 quarters, from late 2006 to late 2009.

All that growth in data also means a growth in the amount of energy needed for transmission, which is why a new global consortium aims to help develop new technologies to boost the efficiency of communications networks by 1,000 times.

The Green Touch consortium, organised by Bell Labs, says that would let us wring three years of communications (including the internet) from the same amount of energy we now use to power networks for a single day.

Now, with information and communications technology (ICT) data demands growing at quadruple-digit rates, even a 1,000-time improvement in efficiency might seem like we’re running ever faster to keep standing still. Ultimately, though, researchers at Bell Labs say we could conceivably make the networks 10,000 times more efficient than they are today.

“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. “We also expect ICT 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.”

Reducing the ICT sector’s energy use could cut its carbon emissions by a factor of five, according to Vicente San Miguel, CTO, Telefónica. That amounts to 7.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or about 15 per cent of the world’s likely emissions by 2020.

Founding members of the Green Touch initiative include:

  • AT&T, China Mobile, Portugal Telecom, Swisscom and Telefonica;
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Research Laboratory for Electronics, Stanford University’s Wireless Systems Lab and the University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society;
  • The CEA-LETI Applied Research Institute for Microelectronics (Grenoble, France), The Foundation for Mobile Communications (Portugal), imec (headquartered in Belgium) and The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control; and
  • Bell Labs, Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Freescale Semiconductor.

Within five years, Green Touch aims to develop a reference network architecture and demonstration-ready components to meet its stated efficiency goals.

“ICT technologies have had a tremendous impact worldwide, but these technologies were developed under a premise of limited wired and wireless network capacity coupled with the low cost of energy,” said Andrea Goldsmith, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University. “Today network capacity has grown tremendously, and so has the financial and environmental cost of energy. We must rethink the architecture and design of our communication networks to reduce their energy consumption by orders of magnitude.”

1 Comment

  • HostMDS
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 12:38 am

    I agree 100% – the ICT vendors have gone off the deep end with regards to electricity consuming equipment. We have seen some blade servers consume as much as 200Amps of power in a 9SqFt configuration.

    Power requirements are out of control for server hosting / colocation.

Comments are closed.

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