The Telecom Industry and its Sustainable Future

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1Q 2022 | IN-6472

With growing 5G networks globally powering the increasing digitization, the telecom industry and its operators are looking for ways to reduce their emissions and meet their net zero targets.

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The Telecom Industry's Sustainability Roadmap


The growing occurrence of global climate change events has led to industries shifting their focus towards their emissions and contributions, and the telecom industry is no different. According to the GSMA’s Mobile Net Zero report, the global Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry’s carbon emissions amount to roughly 700 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) per year, or 1.4% of global carbon emissions. Out of this, it is estimated that the mobile industry produces around 220 Mt CO2e per year, representing roughly 0.4% of global carbon emissions.

To promote further action towards a more sustainable future, the telecom industry has come up with a sustainability roadmap highlighting key steps. First, the industry is working towards greater transparency through climate disclosure, with about sixty operators having disclosed their climate impacts, risks, and opportunities to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system. Secondly, the industry aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050 through a science-based carbon reduction pathway created by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the GSMA, and Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Lastly, aligning telecom companies and industry organizations on the new pathway through collaboration and cooperation is another key step for the industry to collectively reach the net zero goals.

Using Technology to Meet Net Zero Targets


With energy consumption being a large part of the emissions from mobile operators, it is crucial to identify areas where energy reduction initiatives will have the most impact. Based on Telefónica’s energy efficiency initiatives, it was discovered that of the total savings achieved, 69.0% was related to network transformation, 6.2% to cooling, 3.6% to power-saving features, 1.8% to power, 0.8% to lighting, and 18.6% to other categories.

Operators, therefore, are looking into their network infrastructure to make improvements and optimizations to increase network efficiency. One way is through the replacement or removal of equipment that are contributing to network inefficiency. For example, Deutsche Telekom has updated its network infrastructure through Internet Protocol (IP) migration, in addition to the removal of unnecessary equipment, while NTT DOCOMO is replacing existing equipment with more energy-efficient equipment such as Green Base Stations that were developed in-house. The other method of increasing network efficiency involves the use of technologies that enable mobile operators in their endeavor to reduce energy consumption. Verizon, for example, used machine learning to optimize the energy consumption of its data center cooling systems, while also implementing energy management best practices in its operations, and similarly, China Mobile has applied liquid cooling technology to its base stations leading to an energy saving of 35%.

As the global 5G roll-out continues to grow, the introduction and deployment of new equipment will exert added pressure on the energy consumption of operators. This is where equipment vendors can facilitate the process towards more successful and sustainable implementations of 5G networks with their innovations and developments in Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment. Ericsson’s strategy of utilizing energy-saving software in addition to sunsetting of inefficient legacy networks have shown to provide up to 30% energy savings. Huawei’s PowerStar energy saving solution makes use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to optimize traffic management, improving overall energy efficiency and consumption. These technology-driven infrastructure equipment will enable operators to better manage their energy consumption and reach their net zero goals.

Digitization Spurring Greater Energy Efficiency from Mobile Operators


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the acceleration of enterprises and industries digitizing their processes and looking more towards digital services for greater efficiency and sustainability. Digital technologies account for about 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, with digitalization comes technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, which significantly contribute to the evolution and development of climate change monitoring or reduction solutions. For example, AI helps reduce food waste in the food industry by predicting and forecasting consumer demand accurately. IoT sensors can be used to monitor electricity usage, air quality, and many other metrics, providing insights into how governments can improve their cities for its citizens. With digitization comes the connectivity necessary for the various technologies to function and thrive, ultimately enabling the reduction in emissions in various industries. This is where the mobile industry can provide the biggest contribution.

Despite the telecom industry having the ability to reduce emissions in the different industries, the growth in digitization globally will be placing more demand on mobile networks and their related ICT equipment. With more applications and processes moving to the cloud and greater IoT adoption among other technologies, it is therefore vital for the mobile industry to focus their efforts on energy reduction. The accelerated demand for ICT services will need energy requirements in ICT equipment to be heavily reduced to enable sustainable economic development.



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