In the last few years, we’ve seen lots of environmentally focused efforts coming out of all parts of the high-tech sector. We have, in theory, somewhat greener supply chains through which we move components with fewer hazardous materials than before. We have end-devices that come with recycling pamphlets stuffed in their boxes. And we've got carbon footprint calculations, design for manufacturing strategies, and engineering reuse standards.
But don't think for a moment that the momentum has stopped. This week, another initiative came out of the telecommunications industry.
Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) announced the opening of its new Bell Labs Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET), a joint venture with the University of Melbourne. Claiming it to be "one of the largest research efforts on green telecommunications in the world," AlcaLu said CEET will be "devoted to innovation in energy-efficient networks and technologies with the ultimate goal of reducing the impact of telecommunications on the environment."
The center, which will build up to a staff of 22 researchers and technology experts over the next three years, will marry Bell Labs' experience in "generating breakthrough technologies and guiding collaborative research projects" to the University of Melbourne's leading telecommunications network infrastructure research.
CEET's nine main projects will be mostly in the fields of modeling, transmission, and fundamental technology, Alcatel-Lucent says. In general, the initiative will try to frame a deeper understanding of how telecommunications networks consume energy. It's also aiming to enable the development of more sophisticated models of managing energy consumption, particularly with cloud computing, content distribution, and information logistics -- as well as improved energy efficiency of next-generation networks and Internet services.
Additionally, CEET will examine energy reduction techniques of the transmission equipment in telecommunications networks through evaluations of future modulation formats, point-to-point access networks, and analog-to-digital converters. And AlcaLu expects the research to get even more granular, digging into the physical and mathematical properties of photons and electrons to get a handle on future possibilities of developing energy-efficient telecommunications equipment affecting things like wireless networks, switching and information transfer limits, and router power measurement.
The facility will collaborate with industry and research partners as well. For example, it will contribute to GreenTouch, a global industry consortium striving to improve communications networks’ energy use. Besides Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs and the University of Melbourne, other members include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Huawei, Telefónica, AT&T, China Mobile, and Freescale Semiconductor, according to a press release from the Victoria, Australia, state government's office.
CEET is the proverbial drop in the ocean for the telecom industry energy-efficiency program, if analysts' predictions are even close to right. A recent Pike Research report notes that capital investment in energy-efficient telecom network equipment is expected to reach $122 billion by 2014, representing 46 percent of the total network infrastructure market.
Since energy costs are among the largest operating expenses for fixed and mobile telecommunications operators worldwide, many service providers are investing in more energy-efficient infrastructure equipment to significantly reduce their networks' power consumption and carbon emissions, according to the market research and consulting firm.
"The last generation of telecom networks was not always designed with energy efficiency in mind," said Pike Research president Clint Wheelock in a statement, "but increasingly, energy is a top-of-mind priority for network operators around the world. The opportunity is largest for mobile network operators, which we expect will represent almost two-thirds of the green telecom market. This focus is especially relevant as mobile operators deploy 4G networks at scale over the next few years."
Wheelock added that, with a need to balance a surging subscriber base with environmental concerns, the Asia/Pacific region will lead the way in green mobile network spending, representing nearly half the total spend by 2014. European operators, also sharply focused on energy efficiency, will account for an estimated 26 percent of total green mobile capital expenditure by 2014.
Regardless of what programs actually come to fruition from the CEET effort, suppliers feeding into the communications and networking sectors will likely start seeing more requests for products and services that could "green" the industry even more.