The GreenTouch Consortium's latest contribution to the energy-efficiency of future communications networks was designed for fiber-to-the-home, but it has implications for the wireless space, as well.

The group's Bit-Interleaved Passive Optical Network (Bi-PON) technology is purported to reduce the amount of power consumed by FTTH networks by 30 times compared with current technologies – a good tool for operators looking to cut energy costs and increase the capacity of their fiber backhaul.

As GreenTouch wireline working group chief Peter Vetter explains it, today's optical networks don't use 99 percent of the data they process.

By using a new protocol to simplify circuitry and selectively process data, Bi-PON is able to cut down on the amount of energy needed to run backhaul networks while improving performance.

“It can be an important enabler for wireless backhaul," Vetter says.

Bi-PON was jointly developed by GreenTouch members Orange Labs, Bell Labs, nano technology research group imec and French public research agency INRIA.

If Bi-PON were used instead of current FTTH technologies, the reduction in power consumption would be the carbon equivalent of taking a half million cars off the roads, GreenTouch says.

But before you get too excited, there's a catch. Bi-PON still has to be standardized, and getting it into networks isn't a simple software upgrade.

Wireless operators that want to leverage the technology can reuse their existing fiber networks but will have to get new base stations with chips customized to the standard.

“It will require a hardware implementation in a custom chip to have benefits – so yes, this would require a new rollout,” Vetter says.

So don't expect to see an immediate jump in the energy-efficiency of FTTH networks – as with GreenTouch's other innovations, Bi-PON is a long-term project.

GreenTouch's long-term goal is to make communications networks 1,000 times more efficient. Its first two projects – last year's large-scale antenna system and today's Bi-PON announcement – are said to improve energy-efficiency by a factor of 25 when used together.

If it seems like just a drop in the bucket, think of this: GreenTouch has 25 projects in the works, and they're all designed to bring the group closer to its goal.