Creating intelligent networks

Creating intelligent networks

Can cross-sector cooperation create energy efficient communication?
By Thierry Van Landegem, Chairman of the Board, GreenTouch

Traffic in communication networks is growing exponentially, driven primarily by the dramatic rise in smart phones and tablets generating mobile video, new applications and services for consumers and businesses. This traffic explosion is further fueled by a variety of machines, sensors and devices that get connected to the internet. Smarter and more sustainable communities are also increasingly relying on networks and information technologies to build and to enable energy efficiencies in adjacent industries.

Creating intelligent and energy efficient networks is a key driver for economic growth; yet this opportunity comes with significant challenges. Increased traffic is placing huge burdens on all networks, service providers and telecom operators. There is only one way forward: We must make communication networks more energy-efficient, enabling them to support this traffic growth in a sustainable and economically viable way. Less power hungry communication networks will not only result in lower electricity bills for operators, it will also reduce green house gas emissions. Furthermore, more energy efficient communication networks will enable them to be powered by renewable energy sources which can dramatically help communication in emerging countries that lack connections to the power grid.

The challenge however is that past and current generation communication networks have been designed with bandwidth, speed and cost in mind, not energy efficiency. Moreover, communication networks encompass a variety of technologies in mobile, fixed residential and transmission networks making the challenge even harder. Such a challenge cannot be solved by one single party.

Inventing new technologies or using existing technologies in a smarter fashion in such a broad field as communication networks requires bringing together multiple parties in all parts of the information and communication technology (ICT) value chain: equipment manufacturers, component suppliers, equipment operators, universities and research institutes. Inventing radically different technologies requires a bold and ambitious challenge to rally stakeholders around a compelling, tangible and longer term goal; a longer term goal that enables even competitors to collaborate. Multiplying the brainpower provided by the stakeholders requires an intellectual property framework that builds on co-owned inventions to create new inventions. New technologies must be proven by simulation, analytical methods or prototyping and eventually trialed or piloted with implementations in labs of operators. Breakthroughs might require changes of existing standards or even new standardization, or might require changes in existing policies or drive new policies – liaisons with standardization and policy organizations are therefore needed.

The above principles are the key ingredients of a framework that governs a consortium of major ICT players, called GreenTouch, founded in 2010, and whose members collaborate with the explicit mission to develop radical technology breakthroughs that will enable a redesign of networks that are dramatically more energy-efficient. Recently GreenTouch announced that energy consumption in communication networks can be reduced by 90% by the year 2020 – a validation of the above framework. This successful framework is a formidable blueprint to address major societal challenges in a truly collaborative fashion, industry wide or at the intersection of different industries.

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