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Tech giants bet next-generation optical networks will reduce AI's climate impact, aid 6G transition

Some of the world's largest tech firms are backing a new kind of telecoms network which they say will help reduce overall power consumption of data-hungry artificial intelligence applications and accelerate the transition to next-generation 6G mobile internet. 

The likes of Microsoft, Google, Intel, and Sony are supporting the little-known initiative referred to as the IOWN Global Forum, a worldwide collective of cloud hyperscalers, telecom groups, and chipmakers. 

These companies are aiming for the full deployment of a "all-photonic" network, or APN, by 2030.  

IOWN Global Forum is a global group aiming to develop technical standards for all-photonics networks. 

Dozens of major tech firms have signed up as backers. They include the likes of Microsoft and Google, which are behind two of the largest public cloud platforms. 

Telco firms such as NTT, Ericsson and Nokia are also core members of the group. Chipmakers play a key role, too, with Intel and SK Hynix as members. 

Photonic networks, in a nutshell, are networks that use light rather than electrical impulses to deliver data. This approach is expected to result in far lower energy consumption for transmitting data around the world. 

Currently, power usage is a big problem in the technology industry. Rapid adoption of e-commerce, online streaming media, and workplace productivity tools — particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic — has forced companies to reevaluate their network infrastructure and explore new ways of delivering data. 

The goal is to alleviate strain on current-day telecom networks, which is expected to worsen in the coming years amid continued growth in digital adoption and demand for AI — particularly generative AI. 

"Mobile traffic is growing more and more