Why VoIP Needs to Go GreenBy: VoIP Now, on August 19, 2008
Is VoIP greener, than most traditional telephony technologies? While some individuals believe that VoIP is more environmentally friendly than the telecoms, we felt hesitant to agree. VoIP, after all, employs the Internet to operate, and network communications - along with their data centers and other resources - are notoriously energy hungry. According to Gartner Research, increasing energy costs, green technology, and increased environmental regulations pose significant challenges to corporate IT departments. On the other hand, telephone companies such as Telinet in the UK [PDF], are urging clients to recycle their current equipment and avoid the possible energy crunch involved with switching to VoIP. But, is this message true? According to a Citel white paper, the deployment of an environmentally conscious VoIP network need not cost more, and in fact may cost substantially less, "providing a compelling balance between economics and corporate responsibility."
Faced with competition to go green and the looming energy crunch, we feel that VoIP needs to step up their incentives and that individuals and businesses need to rethink their responsibilities for lowering impacts on immediate environments. To that end, the following list offers some questions and answers on greener solutions for VoIP and telecom users. It's the consumer, after all, who drives the telecom and VoIP industries.
- Should you replace or alter existing TDM PBX? This question offers multiple confusion, as telecoms might want users to remain faithful to a TDM (Time-Division Multiplexing) PBX since it does use bandwidth effectively. But, when users replace a TDM PBX with an energy-efficient server-based IP PBX or a hosted VoIP service, they can reduce power consumption dramatically. By pooling resources with other companies at an off-premises server center, users can see a reduction in power consumption as well as more efficient control over the server environment. With that said, VoIP users can generate interest in off-site companies that employ solar energy for their data centers. This effort can make solar energy a more viable resource for everyone. On the other hand, there also is no reason to buy into the VoIP vendor's insistence over buying a totally new system, as TDM PBX systems can be altered to become VoIP-friendly.
- Are PoE IP solutions environmentally friendly? You might be surprised to learn that some VoIP solutions, especially Power over Ethernet (PoE), can force some companies to increase their power supplies. Gary Audin, president of Delphi Inc., who has written extensively on power related to VoIP, stated that PoE "will not only increase the power supply costs but will double the utility power consumption." He estimates that on a simple per-phone basis, running VoIP requires roughly 30- to 40-percent more power than old TDM phones. What is needed is a complete analysis of the features and power consumption of IP phones, the IP PBX, switches, mid-spans and cooling systems before making the decision to go PoE. While some may agree that the PoE solution can provide more reliability and increase production, the environmental cost of this feature may outweigh those considerations.
- Should you replace digital handsets with IP handsets? Many VoIP vendors may try to push new IP phones onto customers. If the customer already owns a digital handset, there is no reason to ditch that handset for new merchandise. In some cases, a softphone application can be installed on the user's computer. Another option is to "VoIP-enable" existing handsets with Telephone VoIP Adapter (TVA) technology. This technology allows users to gain access to many features along with enhanced VoIP features from their existing desktop handsets. While the idea of owning totally new technology might seem ideal, you might ask first where the replaced digital handsets go once they leave the office. Many times, vendors sell the used equipment. Used equipment buyers may strip the valuable components from the handsets and dump the rest of the components in landfills. Users can help remedy this situation by utilizing resources such as Green Citizen to dispose of unwanted electronic equipment. Several otehr organizations and websites have been established that provide guidelines for the proper disposal of telephone, PBX hardware and cabling, including WEEE Man, eWasteGuide, and the EPA.
- Do you need to replace current infrastructure? Some IP vendors may suggest replacing current LAN cables with new cable to support IP phones. Their line of reasoning is stable, as the Cat3 cable, which is prevalent for existing telecom communications, is insufficient for IP traffic. IP phones require Cat5e/6 LAN cable; however, once again, TVA can deliver VoIP features to existing handsets over Cat3 wiring. Additionally, TVAs avoid the LAN, so companies can avoid the expense and environmental damage that may be caused by replacing the LAN infrastructure. In fact, the TVA adaptation can help to avoid a need to update LAN networks until that network can no longer support the adaptation. At that point, the company can consider replacing CAT3 with upgraded IP cable if needed. As with handsets and other electronic equipment, the VoIP provider and the business in question can take responsibility to make sure that all waste is properly disposed.
- Does new construction really need traditional phone cables? The answer is "no." VoIP vendors can become more proactive in approaching construction companies and new builders with the same solution that the Denver-based company, Aardex LLC, chose in 2007. Instead of installing Cat3 cable, this company chose IP5280 (Colorado's VoIP Company) for "the advanced communication services that VoIP delivers to our employees and the green solution it offers the environment." On the other hand, consumers and business owners can begin to view VoIP as a solution to eliminating waste symbolized by traditional technology and by focusing on a cleaner environment as new buildings are constructed.
- Does it matter where a data center is located? Yes, it does matter, as energy costs vary from location to location. According to an article from Goliath, energy rates in New York City are about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with 21 cents in Tokyo and 23 cents in London. Even nationwide, energy costs in the northwest currently are less than those in the country's midsection or on the east coast. "The closer your datacenter is to inexpensive power sources, the better. For example, Google is moving its datacenters to the Columbia River area to reduce the company's energy costs." Look for utility companies that are providing incentives for power conservation as well. You can learn more about nationwide energy profiles at the EIA site (Energy Information Center).
- Can video data (VVoIP) hurt the bottom green line? The push for features such as video conferencing add to the already overwhelming increase on energy consumption. VoIP as well as VVoIP (Video VoIP) lead the list of power-hungry server applications. Businesses and data centers can learn more about how to conserve resources at the following unbiased resources: Climate Savers and The Green Grid. Consumers can check up on who uses these resources, as both sites carry lists of members and active participants. A push to support those businesses that seek and use greener technology will help to move the environmental issue forward.
- Can a company really reduce environmental impacts by migrating to VoIP? The answer to this question relies on several issues such as the size of the company, the reliability of the VoIP service, the ability to include greener components, and the willingness to reduce any impacts on the environment. Using FoIP (FAX over IP), for instance, can help to reduce paper consumption and noise and heat from machines, and to provide less exposure to paper dust and fine particles of potentially toxic toner; however, this transition also may increase the demands on the server environment. VoIP vendors and companies who are willing and able to help industry leaders strategize transitions from traditional phone environments to IP solutions should be in demand. The ability to analyze how a company can reduce environmental impacts by switching from traditional telephony to VoIP is a valuable service, one that can make one VoIP company take the lead in a competitive field.