Cisco Proposes Rewiring City Networks for Green Gains

Cisco is going green, and now the information technology networking giant is helping cities turn green, too.

At the center of the effort is the Connected Urban Development (CUD) Global Conference in San Francisco this week, where Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers in a keynote address Wednesday called for industry and governments to work together to develop technologies that address the world’s pressing environmental concerns.

CUD is a public-private partnership aimed at addressing the environmental problems confronted by urban areas. With Cisco’s lead, CUD is also aimed at developing information and communications technology (ICT) solutions that cities can replicate around the world.

“It is our responsibility as global citizens to help address the challenges of climate change. As a technology company, we are approaching this by not only reducing our own company’s carbon output, but also by helping our customers and partners use the network as a ‘green’ platform for sustainable business and government progress,” Chambers said.

“If we are innovative and collaborative in our approach, ICT can dramatically improve how we manage our global environmental footprint and climate concerns,” he added.

The Basics

Urban areas are the largest global contributor to energy consumption and climate change, Cisco said. According to U.N. Habitat, the world’s 20 mega-cities, each with populations exceeding 10 million, are responsible for 75 percent of the world’s energy consumption.

In addition, other evidence is pointing to the success of ICT solutions in reducing energy consumption. A new study released this month by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that for every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity demanded by ICT, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10.

Launched in September 2006 as part of Cisco’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, Cisco says CUD’s vision is for cities to use innovative ICT solutions to improve energy efficiency; reduce carbon emissions from cars, trains, buses and other forms of transportation; transform urban design, city management and operational practices; and change the way citizens work and interact with each other.

“If you look at energy consumption, you have to look at where the energy consumption occurs, and it’s occurring in buildings and IT infrastructures, so the biggest return for energy efficiencies is to make the buildings more efficient as well as greening the IT infrastructure itself — these are two of the biggest consumers of energy in cities,” Wolfgang Wagner, Cisco’s director of Connected Urban Development for the Cisco Internet Business Development Group (IBSG), told TechNewsWorld.

Closer Look

“As we look at our products and the electrical consumption of our switches and routers, we’re building intelligence into those products, so when a given switch port isn’t being used, a switch can intelligently turn off that port so it’s not consuming as much energy,” Dave Evans, chief technologist for Cisco’s IBSG, told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s a general theme we have in our product strategy, to make our products more environmentally conscious, as well as providing unified communications solutions, collaboration solutions, telepresence solutions to enable people to work more collaboratively and productively on no matter where they are on the planet,” he added.

Driving the Bus

One highlight of the CUD conference is a pilot project focused around a “connected” bus in San Francisco. The bus is a diesel/electric hybrid developed by Cisco and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) to demonstrate an innovative way to make public transportation more green. To attract riders, it’s also a free WiFi hotspot.

“The biggest impact on the environmental footprint is cars, so anything a city can do to get individual people out of individual cars and into public transportation is desirable to improve the eco-efficiency of the cities,” Wagner explained.

“The driver for connecting the bus is two-fold. No. 1 is to improve the customer experience, so you have new services, like wireless, so you can be productive or have entertainment with your laptop on the bus,” Wagner said. “We also have touch, so you can get real-time traffic information about where the bus is, what the connection times are to other modes of transportation in the city, and at the back end there’s streamlined operations for the bus itself for better visibility into vehicle health and daily operations that can be managed by an operations center,” he added.

How It Works

“At the heart of the bus, there’s something called a Cisco mobile access router or MAR, called a ‘3270,’ and essentially it’s a WiFi to a cellular data network device. So when you’re sitting on the bus with your laptop or phone or PDA, you connect via WiFi to the MAR, and the MAR in turn connects to the cellular data network, and in turn, to the Internet,” Evans explained, noting that the bus is connecting via Sprint’s network in San Francisco.

“We have throughput of about 2.4 megabits per second wirelessly to the bus, which is equivalent to DSL (digital subscriber line) speeds to the bus, so that can accommodate quite a few people on bus in terms of basic e-mail, Web browsing and even a few video streams,” he added.

In addition to the connectivity, the bus has four ruggedized computers with solid state drives that run services through five touch-screens on the bus. Services offered include real-time GPS mapping, which tracks not only the green pilot bus but 800 other buses in the city’s fleet as well. The touch-screen services also give riders intersections and predicted wait times for other transportation services.

Amped Up Telecommuting

In addition, CUD is working on developing Smart Work Centers, which is currently being piloted in Amsterdam. The Smart Work Center concept is all about letting local residents work at remote shared satellite offices rather than having them travel into the heart of the city to work at a traditional company’s headquarters. Cisco provides the connectivity solutions to help make the concept feasible, but other, less technical features come into play as well. For instance, Smart Work Centers include child care, dining, banking and other amenities designed to make the centers stimulating work environments for what might otherwise be a lonely telecommuter.

CUD is adding cities to its membership, and the next gathering of CUD cities will take place in Amsterdam on Sept. 23 and 24, 2008.

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