For fiber–optic technology suppliers, “green” initiatives such as the ones Meghan Fuller Hanna describes in her story should elicit little more than the comment, “So what else is new?” Vendors have responded to carrier demands for decreased power consumption and footprint pretty much since the first fiber–optic system found its way into the field. This wasn't because of environmental concerns, but because carriers expected capital and operational expense reductions. And they made it pretty clear that purchasing levels hinged on whether those expectations were met.
In fact, as the comments from the sources in Meghan's article confirm, environmental friendliness and cost savings are intertwined. Which factor receives top billing probably will depend on who is offering the commentary—but, particularly in today's economy, it seems unlikely that features designed to improve environmental sustainability will reach deployment if they cost more either initially or operationally than what's in the network now.
Assuming I'm right about this, what impact, if any, will environmental initiatives have on carriers' technology choices? One key aspect of the Verizon program is that the carrier seeks to improve the energy efficiency of deployed technology. If Verizon's ROADM vendors can't meet the 20% reduction in energy consumption its program demands, the service provider won't replace ROADMs with some other technology; it will just find other ROADM vendors who look like they can meet Verizon's requirements.
It will be interesting to see whether Verizon is willing to bend the rules a bit when an upgraded platform has new features it wants but demands the same power, or perhaps even more, than currently fielded equipment. The statement by Meghan's Verizon source that “vendors are going to have to meet this document or show a clear intent to meet this document, depending on the purchasing scenario we're involved in,” would appear to give the carrier wiggle room. Unfortunately for fiber–optic proponents, one can expect the same scenario to play out where copper still predominates.
Verizon and Qwest, of course, aren't the only carriers with environmental initiatives. Thus, several equipment vendors have begun to play the green card in touting their technology. This strategy reminds me of the fiber–optic industry's early days, when the community had to move the discussion away from initial cost and toward benefits. Yes, optical systems did cost more, but they provided significantly more bandwidth and greater reach. In applications that copper technology just couldn't support, carriers gritted their teeth and paid the extra money because they didn't have a choice. But fiber–optic technology also won out in some applications where the decision wasn't so clear cut based on these added benefits.
Pitching the environmental benefits of fiber optics is therefore a good idea. Energy and size reductions may have been impelled initially by cost concerns, but the ancillary benefit of environmental friendliness adds to fiber optics' appeal. In today's economic eco–system, that's one bit of climate change the industry should strongly support.
Stephen M. Hardy
& Associate Publisher