GreenTouch offers vision for improving wireless network energy efficiency by more than 10,000X

GreenTouch says it has come up with new tools, technologies and architectures to improve the energy efficiency of communications networks for years to come, including new approaches that can boost energy efficiencies in mobile networks by more than 10,000 times.

GreenTouch is a global consortium that was formed five years ago to determine how to support growing communications networks in an environmentally sustainable way. The group was formed through Bell Labs, the industrial research arm of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU).

For the last several years, there's been a dramatic increase in traffic on communication networks which is ongoing. Networks need to grow not only in an economical way but a sustainable one as well. "They are consuming lots of energy and when they have to cope with all that traffic increase, you come to a point where it's almost not sustainable anymore," said Thierry Van Landegem, chairman of the executive board of GreenTouch, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. "We know that networks have not been designed with energy in mind" because the network designs were more focused on capacity, bandwidth and speed--addressing the types of things that consumers want.

"We not only set ourselves an ambitious goal, we also set a timeframe. We said, we want to do this within five years because when you put together a bunch of researchers, they tend to research a lot, and they always find excuses to continue to do the research," he said. "So we set also this timeframe of five years." 

The overachievers went above and beyond their 2010 goal of improving efficiencies in mobile networks by 1,000 times, instead identifying ways to cut consumption by 10,000 times. The savings they're talking about achieving by 2020 is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 5.8 million cars. Put another way: The net energy consumption can be reduced by 98 percent from 2010 to 2020.

To get to that point, GreenTouch is demonstrating nine different architecture technologies at an event today in New York City. It is also launching a web-based, interactive application that provides a complete view into the entire GreenTouch portfolio of technologies and the energy impact from an end-to-end viewpoint. Its Flexible Power Model is a software tool that provides realistic power consumption values for a variety of current and future cellular base station types, configurations and scenarios.

Beyond Cellular Green Generation is an architecture that uses densely deployed small cells with intelligent sleep modes and completely separates the signaling and data functions in a cellular network to improve energy efficiency in current LTE networks, according to GreenTouch.

Another technique is using a large-scale antenna system, which replaces today's macro base stations with a lot of physically smaller, low-power and individually controlled antennas that deliver many user-selective data beams to maximize energy efficiency of the system.

Thierry Klein, chairman of the Technical Committee at GreenTouch, said some of the technologies and techniques in the GreenTouch portfolio can be rolled out with current standards. But a lot also will be candidates for 5G networks, which operators and their vendor partners are in the midst of defining now.

"If we were to be having this conversation in ten years time, we believe a lot of the GreenTouch technologies, for example small cells and large scale antenna systems, will have been deployed," Klein said.

Wireless infrastructure vendors have made energy conservation a part of their product development for some time. Nokia Networks (NYSE:NOK), which is in the process of acquiring Alcatel-Lucent, raised the topic of reduced energy consumption some years back, saying operators could reduce energy consumption with its Flexi base station--no air conditioning needed. The vendor also points out that the cost of solar energy systems has fallen by more than 80 percent during the last 10 years.

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