Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of GreenTouch?

The goal of the GreenTouch Consortium is to fundamentally reinvent information and communications technology (ICT) networks, making them 1000 times more energy-efficient than they were in 2010 and effectively cutting the carbon emissions of ICT networks by more than 250 million tons a year.

GreenTouch is harnessing the innovation and expertise of the ICT industry to invent the technologies that will be at the heart of sustainable networks in the decades to come. We expect to deliver, within five years, a reference architecture, specifications and demonstrations of key components needed to deploy networks that are dramatically more energy efficient than today’s networks.

A dramatically more efficient Internet will be able to continue to grow in size and provide new services to fuel economies and support a smart energy-efficient technology-rich future.

Who can join GreenTouch?

The consortium is open to all players in the industry, so as to leverage the expertise of service providers, infrastructure vendors, software developers, and researchers from around the world. These experts from industry and academia are collaborating in pioneering new technologies to develop a fundamentally different architecture for the networks on which modern communications – and to a large extent modern commerce – depend.

Why was GreenTouch formed?

We formed the consortium because we saw an incredible opportunity: to reduce power consumption to a tiny fraction of what it is today. Realizing this opportunity will involve basically reinventing communications networks, and the formation of a consortium was the most effective means of bringing together the diverse organizations throughout ICT.

We anticipate that the contribution of the ICT industry to global energy consumption will double over the next decade, a direct result of exponential growth in network usage. Network usage has a direct impact on energy consumption.

We determined that even if service providers make best use of key technology available today, they will only just manage to maintain current household energy consumption levels -- certainly not decrease consumption – over the next decade. Having exhausted these technologies, the power consumption of the Internet will begin to rise in direct proportion to traffic growth -- resulting in an exponential explosion of power consumption. To circumvent this outcome an entirely new approach with new technologies will be required.

Given the number of research institutions and companies in the field with large R&D budgets, why add to the mix with GreenTouch?

With this opportunity to invent new technologies that will benefit the environment and have enormous commercial potential, one research institution alone, or even many working separately, will not be able to pioneer all the technologies required. In the spirit of open innovation, the most effective approach is one based on broad collaboration, with members representing industry, academia and service providers.

How much energy does the Information and Communications Technology Industry consume today, and what will it grow to?

Currently the ICT industry is responsible for about 2% of global carbon emissions. However, as demand for ICT services and capabilities grow – in part because of the potential for ICT to enable other industries to reduce their carbon footprints – analysts project that this contribution will double to around 4% within the next 10 years.

How big an impact is this, really? If the industry is responsible for less than 2% of carbon emissions, does that really justify this kind of initiative?

Even a 2% contribution to global emissions and energy consumption is significant – the network component of this represents some 250-300 million tons of carbon emissions. This is equivalent to 50 million automobiles or 20% of the cars in the United States. The projected doubling of this number will be even more significant, and any initiative that can reduce that consumption will have a significant impact not only on the ICT industry, but on the industries that ICT supports. We believe that the potential reduction in carbon emissions from information and communication technology is some 250 million tons per year. We believe it will be possible through the initiatives of GreenTouch to not just keep pace with energy consumption but to actually reduce it.

When will the first GreenTouch solutions be available?

Our target is to introduce new technologies over the next three to five years. Introducing new solutions in this timeframe will put us in line with when we expect energy consumption to outpace the ability of existing solutions to hinder its growth.

An early goal for this initiative is to deliver, within five years, a reference architecture, specifications, technology development roadmap and demonstrations of key components needed to realize a fundamental re-design of networks (including the introduction of entirely new technologies) that can increase the energy efficiency of the network by 1000 times as compared to current levels.

What is the intellectual property rights structure for GreenTouch?

An effort this large and ambitious will generate broad technical advances, so this could have been an issue, but during the formation phase we carefully structured an intellectual property rights model that is satisfactory to the members.

Who is leading GreenTouch?

Thierry Van Landegem of Bell Labs/Alcatel Lucent is the GreenTouch Chairman, and he leads an Executive Board whose members may be seen here.

How did you come up with the name GreenTouch?

"Green" refers to the environment and "touch" is an expression of the ubiquity of communications networks and their ability to help people maintain contact (stay in touch).

Why do you think you will be able to achieve such a significant reduction in energy consumption?

Bell Labs research suggests that today’s ICT networks actually have the potential to be 10,000 times more energy efficient then they are today, so there is a lot of room for improvement. Seen in this context an improvement of 1000 times is an achievable, realistic goal.

Today’s networks have been optimized for performance, not energy, so energy efficiency has not received as much attention as it could have. This suggests that there is essentially a greenfield opportunity with lots of unrealized potential.

Take the example of speed. Similar to our situation with respect to energy today, 25 years ago people understood that we were far away from fundamental capacity limits, but did not know which technologies would be most important or exactly how far the technologies could be pushed. Now we know that we are far away from the potential for dramatically more energy-efficient networks, and we need to figure out which technologies will get us there.

Achieving this kind of reduction in energy use will require a fundamentally redesigned network and new technologies, but we believe that with the expertise that resides in GreenTouch we are well-positioned to reach this goal and make a significant impact.

Has the research carried out on energy consumption by GreenTouch members been validated by other parties or organizations?

The research conducted by Bell Labs and the models developed from that research take advantage of well-grounded and validated inputs.

For example, aspects of the reference network that we used to understand energy consumption trends in current and future networks are similar to the models developed by world-renowned networking expert Professor Rodney Tucker of the University of Melbourne. To estimate lower limits for energy consumption in networks, our inputs came from Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon’s now-legendary work on information capacity limits, Meindl’s widely-referenced work on energy consumption limits for electronics, Rene-Jean Essiambre’s more recently published work on the transmission capacity limits of optical fibers, etc.

Will GreenTouch establish some sort of quantitative index to measure your progress and what you are achieving?

Yes. We expect to establish a set of milestones and key performance indicators most likely tied to improvement by orders of magnitude. However, the milestones will be spaced further apart in the beginning phases given the nature of the research undertaken. A common pattern for research of this nature, especially involving such a comprehensive re-invention of technologies, is to show modest advances at first, followed by an exponential acceleration in breakthroughs in the later stages.

In September 2012, GreenTouch released the GreenTouch Roadmap: Strategic Research Areas and Project Portfolio. This roadmap has four essential elements: (1) a network energy reference model and associated tools for estimating current energy trends and evaluating potential future solutions; (2) a strategic research areas (SRAs) compendium that captures the major research challenges and associated energy efficiency targets; (3) a portfolio of research projects and activities that address the strategic research areas along with an integrated and consolidated view of the overall end-to-end network architecture; and (4) a progress measurement indicator detailing how and when the research projects accomplish progress towards achieving the consortium goals.

In May 2013, GreenTouch announced findings of its Green Meter research study, a first-of-its kind analysis that provides the industry with a better understanding of energy efficiencies possible in network operations in 2020. The analysis indicates that net energy consumption in networks can be reduced significantly—up to 90 percent—by 2020. The study takes into account new technologies, architectures and protocols, as well as the dramatic increases anticipated in communications traffic over the next decade.

Are there different energy consumption patterns for wireline and wireless networks, and how different is the potential for reduction?

Yes. Wireless networks are less efficient than wireline networks because of the way they transmit signals. Nonetheless, wireline networks hold out good potential for improvement of energy consumption.

What is Shannon’s Law?

Shannon’s Law provides a method to derive the useful capacity of any communications channel.

Claude Shannon was a Bell Labs researcher who about 50 years ago came up with a method to derive the useful capacity of any communications channel. This method, which came to be known as Shannon’s Law, was based on the recognition that capacity of a communications channel is related to the signal-to-noise ratio of the channel, which can also be expressed in terms of energy per bit. For a desired capacity, the Shannon limit can be used to determine the minimum energy required per bit of useful information.

The Shannon law analysis seems to be based on an abstract, impossible network. Are you confident that you can really achieve 1000-fold improvement in ICT network efficiency?

The Shannon limit with respect to capacity is also an abstract limit that is impossible to achieve and yet we've improved optical transmission capacities by more than 10000 times and in research labs come within a factor of 10 of that limit.

The subject of limits with respect to energy consumption in networks is more complicated, and the ability to approach those limits will vary depending on the type of network and the technologies associated with it. However, in some cases, such as core networks, identifiable technology limits are much larger than 1000, in fact as large as 100 million. The key is to identify opportunities to place networks on a path that will allow them to continuously improve in energy efficiency, particularly in response to increased traffic growth.

What kind of commitment is expected from members? For example, are members expected to contribute a certain amount of staff time to work on projects?

We hope that all members will contribute resources to projects as they are able, but we have no firm requirements for participation.

Are you involving any governments in GreenTouch?

We welcome government contributions of guidance, support, coordination, and possibly funding, as appropriate. We already have the enthusiastic support of governments around the globe. The consortium will also closely engage with non-governmental organizations (NGO) and standards bodies as appropriate. However, government agencies and their representatives will not have membership status.

What is the benefit of GreenTouch for service providers?

A dramatic reduction in energy usage will enable even more growth on the network, which will of course also benefit individuals. From a financial perspective, rising energy costs will make up an increasingly large percentage of operator expenses over time. So any solution that reduces energy consumption delivers a direct financial benefit to operators and to everyone.

Second, we expect that traffic over networks will continue to grow exponentially as new applications become available and as more and more industries leverage ICT capabilities to moderate their own energy use. As a result, operators will need to deploy new networks and new solutions to accommodate this growth.

Given that the industry already anticipates being compelled to deploy new networks, the prudent, socially responsible and economic thing to do is to implement networks that are eco-sustainable and dramatically minimize energy consumption.

What kinds of companies or enterprises are likely participants in GreenTouch?

Membership in the consortium is open to all industry players, and we expect that members will continue to come from industry, academia, and service providers. The only condition is that people are willing to contribute to the goal.

While we do not foresee governments being direct members, we do look for their active participation in facilitating this collaboration, providing guidance, and possibly funding. We will also create a type of observer status for government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to participate and stay engaged in this process.

What is expected of members?

We count on GreenTouch members to engage and participate in activities and tasks such as establishing a roadmap, staffing our work groups organized around specific areas of focus. We also have non-technical groups where member participation drives the work, such as the Funding and Marketing & Communications committees.

What are the business benefits that members may expect from GreenTouch?

Our industry as a whole is concerned about the ICT impact on the environment, and GreenTouch will help us collectively address that issue. From a business perspective, minimizing network demand for energy will reduce operating costs, something every business is naturally interested in achieving. Additionally, there are channels through which GreenTouch members can profit by licensing technology solutions that are developed by the consortium.

Is another industry group truly needed to work on this, when existing industry bodies already have their own initiatives? How is what GreenTouch is proposing different from other consortia?

We recognize that there are a number of existing, well established and effective industry organizations addressing ICT and climate change. Most of these either address the enabling opportunity of ICT in reducing carbon emissions in other sectors (sometimes referred to as the indirect effect or 98% factor as used by SMART2020) or address the industry’s direct contribution, seeking to reduce energy consumption/carbon emissions of ICT itself (per SMART2020, the 2% factor). This latter group, from what we observe, is looking at more tactical, and incremental, improvements in the near to intermediate term, efforts that are clearly needed.

We see GreenTouch as a complementary effort to these existing initiatives. It recognizes that keeping the status quo will not achieve the dramatic energy/carbon reductions we need based on the exponential growth in ICT network usage and traffic – and a dramatic rethinking of ICT infrastructure, as we know it, is needed to enable this change.

We are extremely supportive of these existing efforts and consider them to be valuable. In fact, many GreenTouch participants are already active in them and will remain so.

How will GreenTouch work with standards organizations? Does it intend to develop technology standards?

We don’t propose that GreenTouch becomes a standards organization – there already exists well recognized, effective bodies that address this in the ICT industry. However, we do envision that standards, protocols, etc. will eventually be critical as we tackle the 1000-fold challenge and expect that some of the output of GreenTouch will trigger actions and proposals in the appropriate standards domains.

Is there any economic employment relevance or effect from the consortium’s activities?

Over the decades ICT has proven that it can enable substantial economic growth. We now recognize that it can substantially reduce carbon emissions as well. GreenTouch can enable ICT to be critical to both.

Where is GreenTouch based?

Our headquarters is in Amsterdam, and our day-to-day operations are carried out from Wakefield, Massachusetts. However, GreenTouch research is going on all over the globe.

Does GreenTouch have a staff?

At present, we contract with third parties, such as law firms and association management companies, to provide needed administrative and operational functions, marketing and promotional activities, event planning and support, etc.

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