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Alcatel Lucent has announced an industry-wide initiative called GreenTouch, that calls for a 1,000 fold reduction in energy consumption in the telecom and Internet network. It has an impressive list of ‘founding members’ including operators like China Mobile and AT&T; research organizations like Bell Labs and IMEC; universities like MIT; and silicon vendors like Freescale. In all they have 15 members that make up the list of founding members, which reads more like a roll call aimed at showcasing the breadth and complexity of the effort.

At the impressive media event in London yesterday, they had their CEO Ben Verwayen and Bell Labs head Jeong Kim attending, apart from representatives from the 15 members. Together they tried to explain how scientists and engineers at Bell Labs had come up with a number that defines the minimum energy required for networks to operate. According to their calculations, in theoretical terms this is 10,000 times lower than what is achieved today.

Notwithstanding the fanfare, there were many sceptics amongst the audience including myself who were looking for a bit more of detail in this announcement, while trying to understand the true motivations for ALU who has been financially downbeat off late. Here are some of the points that stood out for me at the press conference:

- They used the old argument of the amount of CO2 emitted due to ICT, which we have heard many times, but failed to mention about the rising costs of energy - which in my view is the core problem that green networks solve.

- There was no differentiation between fixed or mobile networks or how much energy is being consumed or lost in each, or how their effort will tackle different elements of the fixed/mobile networks. During the question & answer session they did mention that wireless makes up majority of the 10,000-fold inefficiency. A bit more detail on this would have been useful.

- My main cause for concern: what is GreenTouch doing differently from the myriad of industry and academia efforts in the same or related fields like MobileVCE, Smart2020, GSMA Green Power for Mobile, EARTH (Energy Aware Radio and Network Technologies) etc? GreenTouch says that it will start with a clean slate, however isn’t there a danger that it might be reinventing the wheel to some extent? Do they plan on collaborating with all or some of the various green telecom efforts that have looked at the issue of inefficient telecom networks?

- They say that it is an open initiative inviting industry and academia to join. However, as someone pointed out during the press conference, ALU is the only telecom vendor on the list. Will the NSNs and Ericsson’s of the world join this effort? The fact that ALU is the face of GreenTouch might be a key hurdle in making this a ‘true’ industry-wide effort. I wonder if this was backed by the GSMA, whether it would have been more effective?

- Currently there are no standard bodies amongst the members, who would be critical in making this a success and implementing the system level architecture. If not, how does the new reference architecture get implemented into future networks? No sign of IEEE, ETSI or 3GPP? Again, this would help give it more credibility.

- There was an incorrect suggestion by ALU made during the press conference that current networks are built for performance and not efficiency. This is not completely true. If you compare mobile technologies through the years from First Generation AMPS down to Fourth Generation LTE there has been a 10-fold reduction in the amount of CO2 per subscriber. A large part of this CO2 reduction has been because of improved efficiencies in the protocols, spectrum efficiency, hardware and software processing etc. Each iteration of mobile technologies are more efficient than their previous generation. What I am interested in seeing is the difference between what ALU is proposing and what has been achieved until now? Why is the focus not on making incremental changes but on starting from a clean slate? Have the current approaches got us nowhere?

- They clearly tried to avoid any questions on how much this will cost for ALU or the consortium. They hope to get funding from governments worldwide and the members themselves. However no approximate value was mentioned the announcement. Maybe its early days and they will get their heads together to figure out how much it will cost.

- Lastly, on the question of IP (Intellectual Property) they said that they hope that it will be shared and be open. They should know that there are no easy answers or assumptions when it comes to IP. I hope they have a clear understanding amongst the members on the question of IP.

It remains to be seen how ‘open’ the effort is, how many new members join in, more importantly who joins in. On a positive and personal note I think it is commendable for ALU and Bell Labs to take up this challenge and dream of a cleaner future where networks are smarter and highly efficient. I sincerely wish that they are successful and can ‘truly’ work up collaboration within the industry. I only hope that their heart is in the right place and this is not just another ‘green’ campaign that only improves shareholder value.


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