Greening the Telecom Sector

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 {complink 9705|Alcatel-Lucent} 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.

15 comments on “Greening the Telecom Sector

  1. SP
    March 31, 2011

    Yes the word green has become so important these days, its amazing to see how products are labelled as green. Even in India the environment ministry is so active to make people concious of green advantages.

  2. SunitaT
    March 31, 2011


      Thanks for this post. Going green in telecom sector is not only important w.r.t saving energy but also w.r.t saving certain species of birds (sparrows) as well. Some theories suggests that the ratdiation from mobile phone towers affects the nervous and reprodcutive systems of sparrwos. If CEET can come up with energy reduction techniques of the transmission equipment in telecommunications networksit would definitely help to save these species.

  3. Backorder
    March 31, 2011

    Would love to read about what some of the industry giants like CISCO are doing in turning telecom green.

  4. AnalyzeThis
    March 31, 2011

    I think the whole “green” buzzword is tossed around perhaps a little too liberally these days. In this particular instance, I do agree that reducing energy consumption is important… but if all you're doing is using less energy, are you truly going “green”?

    This is an extreme analogy, but if a coal-based power plant figured out how to produce 10% less pollution, would that qualify them as being “green?” I don't think so, they're still polluting…

    Anyhow, to get to the point, it is in the corporation's best interest to increase energy efficiency and thus reduce their costs. It just makes good business sense, so I don't think a company that attempts to reduce their energy costs should be hailed as environmentalists.

    Now if they were running solar-powered super switches or something, that's a different story. But it doesn't sound like that's the case.

  5. jbond
    March 31, 2011

    I have to agree that the term “green” is being used very liberally. I'm sure the telecom industry could use cut backs of their energy use. I would like to see what some of the larger companies have done and are planning to do. Currently many of the large scale upgrades are very costly and many companies are shying away until they're forced.

  6. Jennifer Baljko
    April 1, 2011

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the comments. Seems like folks may be interested in what some of the bigger networking companies may be doing on this front. Maybe that will be a topic for another post… will need some time to poke around and see what I find.


  7. Nemos
    April 1, 2011

    (Please if I am wrong correct me)

    If understand well ,the article talking about the mobile telecommunications operators and how they will be more “greener” and how the research team will try to find ways to improve the overconsumption problem during the calling time in gsm network.

    I think every step we do and has green orientation even if we do for marketing purposes ,  contribute to improve the quality of everyday life. 

    and in response to this article will be very interesting to see how green are companies manufacturing mobile phones.


  8. Ariella
    April 1, 2011

    I agree with DennisQ.  I see a lot of companies boasting of green innovation which amount to very little real improvement for the environment. Then there are the stores that only promote “green” that helps their own bottom line. For example, CVS will give you a 25 cents credit each time you use a reusable bag, but only if you first purchase the tag issued by the store.  Target will also extend a credit for reusing a bag, but only if it's one you purchased from the store for 99 cents.

  9. itguyphil
    April 2, 2011

    Doing it for the wrong reason is better than not doing it at all. What is the true metric used to quantify one's green contribution when it comes to environmental savings?

  10. Ariella
    April 2, 2011

    pocharles, certainly, no matter what one's motivation, if the actions have a positive effect, there is some measurable improvement. I'm just pointing out the fact that the stores are not wholly motivated by “green” concerns, or else they would wish to encourage people to reuse bags even if they or their tags were not purchased from the store.  

    I also find that some businesses claim to be “green” when asking customers to opt for paperless billing, though their real motivation is to save their own costs on mailing and postage.  That's fine because it really is more efficient all around, but it is just not completely honest to pretend you're doing it for the sake of the environment when you really are motivated by your own bottom line.  It would suggest that the businesses would not opt for “green” alternatives unless they gain directly from them.


  11. prabhakar_deosthali
    April 4, 2011

    Saving paper by sending e-bills is one way of saving environment,but the real saving of the environment requires hat we save on the daily active usage of energy in those billions of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Especially for mobiles and tablets there is every possibility to have solar chargers for these devices at affordable prices. If telecom companies can offer solar chargers at subsideised rates and promote their use then that will result in the huge savings in the daily energy consumption of the world. I would say that will be the real contribution of these giants to make the world GREEN again.

  12. Ariella
    April 4, 2011

    Solar chargers would be great.  We use so much power on our many devices, and harnessing a clean source of energy for them would definitely be an improvement. But I doubt the companies would invest in them unless they see actual profit beyond goodwill in it for them.

  13. Wale Bakare
    April 4, 2011

    I think investing in energy efficiency of network infrastructure of telecommunication is more of capital intensive.  Interesting piece of an article –  research institution  beaming more search light to achieve by consolidating on energy effeciency within the telecommunication sector.

    Meanwhile, according to some previously research papers reviewed that RF baseband consumed larger percentage % of energy in wireless communication systems.  This crusade for more energy efficient in wireless systems will set to go on.

    On the solar expect – few telecommunication firms have commenced installation of solar panel plates especially to power basestations not for effeciency only but to also cut Co2 emission environmentally. ZTE Corporation, the leading chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer has remarkbly achieved on this. The company has successfully done for a telecom service provider in Africa MTN. ZTE installed  solar station to provide power for basestations – MTN cameroon



  14. Jennifer Baljko
    April 5, 2011

    Thanks everyone for the comments, and @Wale Bakare, thx for the ZTE link. I'll check it out for the story I'm working on this week about the green initiatives  the global top-tier telcom and networking companies are managing these days.

  15. Mr. Roques
    April 16, 2011

    They should focus on data centers consumption, and how cloud computing could help in this regard. I can't remember the exact amount but I think the EPA reported that 1.5% of all the energy consumed in the US came from data centers.

    Does anyone have more info on which other elements are considered energy high-consumers?

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