Can a VoIP Solution be Green?

by Dave Michels

It is extraordinary to me that everything has gone green over the past year.

In the early 90s there was a craze for “clear” products as people rejected artificial coloring. In many cases, it made a lot of sense. Pepsi Clear had the same taste, but no carmel coloring. Personal products followed suit and shampoo lost the coloring too. People realized that the color wasn’t adding value and dropped it. But clear got carried away, and the marketers on Park Ave. started dreaming up clear products that weren’t natural. Clear beer as an example – the effort (intervention) required to get the beer clear was completely against the original notion of a more natural product.

Then came the backlash, consumers didn’t want to be fooled and the marketers dropped the clear thing. Sodas, shampoos, and other items went back to their artificial colors. Clear was dead.

Are we on the same path with “green”? At first, all the natural green products went green – solar energy, recycled products, etc. But now just about everything is going green. Even petroleum based products (Icynene insulation) and Chevy Suburbans (Hybrid models to save gas). The latest which caught my eye is now Mitel is marketing their 3300 VoIP platform as a green product. Polycom is positioning their IP products as green.

Let’s take a look at Mitel’s points:

TDM to IP uses 90% less rack space. Well saving rack space can be green since rack space is usually associated with controlled HVAC. Reducing air conditioning needs is certainly green, but old TDM technology really didn’t generate much heat. Unfortunately Mitel doesn’t claim less heat. Assuming less computer rack space is needed, it could keep the overall space and room more contained, but overall it is a weak argument.

Draw .14 watts per user with the Mitel 3300 MXE. This is a highly nebulous statistic that is very difficult to quantify. The core of the problem is the spirit of the comparison is comparing the 3300 VoIP solution to TDM solutions such as the Mitel 2000. This is a bit apples to oranges as the nature of a TDM solution is to provide power to the telephone. The Mitel 3300 MXE does not provide power to the telephones. Therefore, its claim is highly misleading as the solution still requires additional power typically from POE switches or power bricks at the desktop. Can it be claimed the Mitel 3300 MXE uses less power than other VoIP alternatives – perhaps. But that isn’t their claim here (that claim is below).

Switch from 80 Watt PCs to 4 watt Sun Rays: I like this one though a bit apples to oranges. This is really a discussion point for thin clients vs PCs where the typical argument is Total Cost of Ownership. Logically, with green being in, the TCO argument will now include power points. The Mitel angle here is that they have a very slick solution around Sun Ray thin clients – where the phone itself can be the sun ray client (plug monitor, mouse, and keyboard into the phone). It is a very elegant solution for those thin client fans that like Sun Rays. And If the shoe fits, you may as well don a green hat. However, just a guess here – this scenario applies to less than 1% of the Mitel 3300 installed base.

The Mitel 5212 uses 41% less power than largest competitor’s phone: Back to watts per user and back to apples to oranges. I assume the largest competitor’s phone is a Cisco model. This isn’t a bad claim except that the 5212 phone isn’t exactly a nice phone. It uses a paper label instead of LCD, offers a small text LCD screen, and is among Mitel’s lowest models in features and capabilities. Is a paper phone (Desi labels) more green than an LCD label free phone? Probably in terms of power consumption, but the costs associated with maintaining paper labels is not trivial as phone buttons are frequently reprogrammed.

Can a Phone System be Green?
It is certainly easy to poke at Mitel’s attempt, but are we selling clear beer or can a VoIP solution really improve the quality of life on our planet? Oddly, I find that I do think a VoIP solution can fit in with “Green”. Yes, technology can be good.

Basically, all of Mitel’s points above focus on power consumption. Yes, we need to reduce power consumption with more efficient uses. Mitel may offer some competitive benefits over Cisco, but they really aren’t claiming that.

To me, what will make a phone system green is some basic manufacturing and design changes, but the real meat is in the applications. On manufacturing and design, I believe phones should be much smaller and use less power (always on backlights need to go away, touchscreens consume too much power). As I wrote in a previous blog, the phones are just too big. My desktop phone is about 50 times larger than my cell, isn’t portable, doesn’t have wifi, an integrated directory, or any games, or even a battery. My cell phone also has a full alpha-numeric keyboard, blue tooth, and a web browser. How often do you find yourself using a cell phone while at your desk?

I am not a hardware engineer, but I assume the phones could be more green with either recycled plastics or plastics easy to recycle. Same for the electronics.

But the real green benefits are in the applications – anything that can reduce my impact on the planet’s resources counts. Mitel has an excellent teleworker application which didn’t make their Green cut sheet. Teleworking reduces carbon associated with driving as well as HVAC requirements at the office. A claim around teleworking can be much more powerful than a claim around rack space savings.

Any type of electronic conferencing (3 way calling, conference bridges, video conferencing,…) offer impacts. Mitel (and others) all offer solutions here that can can be argued as green.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy both Mitel and green solutions, I must conclude that their claims are more in the clear beer camp than clear soda. That is I don’t see anyone switching to a Mitel VoIP solution to be more green. However, I do encourage telecom decision makers to consider things like power and environmental impacts in their decision making process, and hopefully manufacturers will soon have stronger claims that will truly differentiate their products.