There are plenty of reasons for telecom companies to make a commitment to energy efficiency, with reducing operating costs being of course Reason #1. And the general trend has long been for each new generation of network equipment to be steadily more efficient -- as much as 25 percent more efficient, year over year.
That, however, is nowhere near what's actually possible. The GreenTouch Consortium, a coalition of ICT companies, universities and network operators that launched in 2010, has set a goal of making telecommunications 1,000 times more efficient.
Today, GreenTouch is raising the curtain on its second technological achievement that brings the industry closer to that goal. In an online event kicking off this morning at 8am Pacific Time, GreenTouch researchers will unveil a new method for sending data over fiberoptics networks that is 30 times more efficient than what's currently in use.
GreenTouch's breakthrough is Bit-Interleaved Passive Optical Network (Bi-PON), and it offers the potential to rewrite how tens of millions of homes around the world receive the data from their fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks, using existing infrastructure, and achieving that 3,000 percent improvement in energy efficiency.
"Ninety-nine percent of the data [currently sent over FTTH systems] are being unnecessarily processed," explained Peter Vetter, who heads GreenTouch's Wireless Access Working Group. "That gives us a significant opportunities for improvements in energy efficiency."
The specifics of the technology are complicated, but in a nutshell: Bi-PON builds off of the current network standard of XG-PON, which is structured in a way that requires the data server to send all the data to each end-user's node on a network. Each node then sorts out only the data that's relevant to that end-user, and discards the rest. The graphic below illustrates this setup.
Bi-PON, however, shifts when that data is sorted, restructuring how the existing hardware sorts the data so that just a tiny fraction of that data is delivered to each door.
"The analogy is that, when the postman rings the doorbell [under XG-PON], he lets you look through all the mail in the bag; it's a huge amount of wasted effort," explained Gee Rittenhouse, the Chairman of GreenTouch. "Now, we're trying to have the mailman deliver the mail at the top of the stack and then go to the neighbors and deliver the mail at the top of the stack, and so on."
The efficiencies built into this process go a long way beyond what's already being implemented in the industry. In addition to that 25 percent year-over-year figure, Vetter explained that current FTTH nodes also have a rapidly cycling sleep function that saves a significant amount of energy already, about one-tenth of what would be used without the sleep mode. But GreenTouch's Bi-PON system takes that to the next level and beyond.
Next page: What this level of efficiency brings to the industry, and to the planet