Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

A communications industry at least tinged with green

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A welcome to Green Touch, the communications industry’s inititiave to reflect a green agenda in the level of power consumption taken up by communications networks, launched yesterday in London.

The initiative is led by Bell Labs, the R&D unit of Alcatel-Lucent, and comprises 15 founder members drawn both from the operator community, including AT&T, China Mobile, Telefonica, Portugal Telecom and Swisscom, and research organisations. Membership is open to all and Green Touch expects to welcome other industry players. Its agenda is driven by a number of issues:

– communications networks are eating up more energy, and at a faster pace as demand rises for capacity as a result of the huge rise in digital information being uploaded and shared

– today’s networks use more energy than they need to: if left unchecked, energy usage is projected to double over the next ten years

– demands on information and communication technologies are increasing as organisations look to tackle their own carbon footprint by making more use of ICT in terms of remote working.

In contrast, Green Touch’s aim is to research new technologies capable of bringing about a 1,000-fold reduction by 2015 in the carbon emissions created by the usage of telecoms networks today – a target intended to be practical although the industry believes that a reduction of ten times even that amount is possible. The 1,000-fold reduction is equivalent to 7.8GTn of CO2, or 15% of the total world emissions predicted by 2020, according to Telefonica.

Little is yet known about the initiative, apart from its aim to reduce power consumption, and the details of the project remain somewhat vague. Overall, the approach and the aims are welcome – it will assist the environment, improve expertise both at corporate and individual levels and it will also help support jobs in the industry. All these provide reasons enough to be supportive.

Nevertheless, how far the industry is prepared to go actually to deliver in practice the laudable aims of the initiative, in terms of the R&D investment that it will require and the level of patience that may be required before that investment secures a return, is, as always, a key point. Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of Alcatel-Lucent, spoke of the initiative taking up, in cash terms, ‘tens of millions’; this is, by itself, unlikely to allow the industry to identify itself with a green future: ‘more’ is clearly likely to be required and that, in turn, given the social benefits such technologies might bring, is likely to require government involvement. The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control is one of the founder members and, while DECC has been verbally supportive, it has as yet issued nothing specific in terms of communications, still less more tangible forms of support. For a government looking to replace an economic over-reliance on the financial services industry, and with its own clear commitment to a green agenda, that is a gap which needs to be filled.

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Written by Calvin

12/01/2010 at 3:30 pm

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