Green VoIP: How Does Your Calling Plan Impact the Environment?

Updated: April 30, 2009

Tomorrow is Earth Day, which means it's time to consider how our modern lives affect the planet. We know what our cars and coal-fired power needs are doing to the environment, but we rarely consider the Internet's role in climate change. Internet-related activities currently consume nearly 4 percent of North America's power supply . With video services, cloud computing and other bandwidth hogging features, that number is only going to increase.

Much has been made about green datacenter initiatives by Google and others, but what about VoIP? How does the transition from a PBX system to VoIP affect your company's carbon footprint, and how might it be better?

When we think of energy efficiency, we rarely consider our telephone usage. After all, when the power goes out, our old PBX lines still work. But with the rapid transition to communication devices fueled by rechargeable batteries or routed through datacenters from one Internet end user to another, telephony now comes with its own carbon price tag. How many mountaintops have been removed by strip mining in search of coal to fire turbines to recharge cell-phone batteries? When VoIP providers start offering power-hungry video VoIP to a wider audience, will they reveal whether their datacenter is powered by a clean, renewable source, or by dirty coal? Such revelations could make or break a company in the environmentally conscious tech sector. Sensing the importance of this issue, some companies have put their greenness at the front-and-center of their business models.

Green VoIP Options

Signalogic , a DSP (digital signals processing) firm based in Dallas, has entered the green VoIP fray with hardware that can increase a typical Linux VoIP server's efficiency from hosting 50 calls simultaneously to more than 1,000 - saving potentially tons of coal and the mountains it hides in. Signalogic's recommended green VoIP-server configuration of Linux x86 servers running Signalogic's VoIP acceleration hardware; DirecDSP voice API software ; OpenSER SIP proxy software; and Asterisk PSTN (public switched telephone network) termination software with RTP (real-time transport protocol) proxy setup and configuration utilities. Signalogic claims that such a configuration will result in a "far higher channel density and far lower power consumption than other systems."

DNA Communications Inc. , based in Rochelle, Ill., has a comprehensive, company-wide green policy that includes use of recycled paper and hybrid cars for its corporate fleet. DNA's residential VoIP offering, Vodyssey , has "lower rates than Vonage or Lingo " to rural customers in northern Illinois, who previously had no access to the diversified broadband-services market. However, its customers' VoIP services are likely powered by nuclear energy from the nuclear power plant 20 miles away in Byron, Ill., which may cause some to doubt whether DNA is truly green, or rather - florescent green.

Citel Plc , founded in Nottingham, U.K., with its U.S. offices in Seattle, calls itself "The VoIP Migration Company." From its expert perch, Citel has offered five steps to a greener VoIP-conversion process that can also save companies money on the bottom line - a rarity in a world that considers corporate stewardship and green initiatives to be costly luxuries. Most of Citel's tips are practical, like making sure to dispose of old phone systems and wiring in an environmentally friendly way, and using TVAs (telephone VoIP adapters) on existing phone lines to prevent old wiring from ripping out of the walls - an expensive, time-consuming, and environmentally costly procedure. Also, Citel recommends using your standard telephone headsets for as long as possible, saving money and space at the landfill. Many VoIP providers, Citel points out, sell newer fancy headsets to boost their profits. Resist these salesmen, Citel warns, for the sake of the environment and your budget.

Los Angeles-based Broadcore has developed a business model that would be in good standing with Citel's environmental best-practices advice. As TriplePundit pointed out in an article , Broadcore does not require its customers to purchase proprietary phone hardware, and therefore frees its client companies to use its limited resources elsewhere, and doesn't require them to purchase new equipment when services are upgraded. Additionally, by facilitating a distributed workforce that can more easily telecommute from home, Broadcore allows a company's employees to save as much as 45 gallons of gasoline per month normally used to commute to work.

Other VoIP companies have taken the traditional activist route to making the world a greener, more sustainable place to live and work. CREDO Long Distance , which for $5.95 per month and 2.9 cents per minute provides customers with affordable long distance, will donate to causes related to the environment, human rights and voter registration. Earth Tones , an Internet and VoIP provider, donantes 100 percent of its profits to grassroots environmental organizations.

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