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Always On

Matt makes a really great point at the end of his post below: Communications folks, especially those who grew up in telephony, pride themselves on building networks and systems that are available 24/7. But one of the best ways to save energy is to turn things off.At the same time, the cellular networks pretty consistently collapse at times of extraordinary demand: People I know with loved ones at Northern Illinois University reported that, during the panicked hours after the terrible shooting incident at NIU, cellular calls weren't getting in or out.

So on the one hand, you have networks that are always on, even when they're not needed by many people other than those in emergency situations. And you have networks that fail during those peak emergency times.

Emergency communications is an imperative; energy savings is, still, something we strive for but won't change a lot to achieve--we certainly won't sacrifice emergency preparedness.

Still, the model that's emerging in university settings for dealing with crisis situations may become the model for most other enterprises, and potentially even the public networks: Use multiple networks and media simultaneously.

If that's the model for emergency communications, it seems like we ought to be able to develop an everyday model where we use multiple networks--moving among them dynamically and automatically, rather than simultaneously, as you must do in an emergency--to optimize resources that include not just connectivity, but energy as well.

I guess I'm thinking less about specific tradeoffs here than a mindset, one that believes the default condition of devices on the network should be Off or Sleep mode. It's a difficult challenge: You don't want to shut down all your IP phones at night, because if you bring them all back up at the same time, the registrations could overwhelm the network and give you an unintentional Denial of Service attack.

But wired IP desk phones are increasingly looking like cell phones, in terms of the operating systems and clients that they run (as with Microsoft). As one example, why couldn't future wired IP phones have a "power-save" mode like wireless phones have, and just send "keep-alive" packets periodically so they stay registered?

It just seems to me that if we're being encouraged to think about end user connectivity holistically, taking all of their communications devices into account, we have an opportunity to think about the networks connecting those devices in a holistic fashion that lets us run those networks more efficiently.