The rise of green networks
Industry Voices

The rise of green networks

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The ambition to reduce energy consumption and operate in a ‘greener’ way is present across all industries, with telecoms being no exception. In fact, data from the GSMArevealed that, as of 2022 50 global operators had pledged to reduce their carbon footprint over the next decade, an almost three-fold increase in pledges from 2021.

For those telcos who have pledged to minimise emissions, the focus has been placed on creating and enabling truly ‘green’ networks. Often this is tied to improving the efficiency of legacy equipment and infrastructure to help slim down energy consumed by the network. We’re also seeing progress towards the adoption of renewable energy, 2G and 3G sunsetting to minimise overall energy usage and the use of Artificial Intelligent (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to optimise efficiency.

Aside from improving the sustainability credentials of their infrastructure, telcos will play a key role in the enablement of smart technologies that will underpin the development of smart cities and counties. It’s these environments that will not only enhance opportunities for citizens but also stimulate sustainability initiatives that will be driven by improving the efficiency of local infrastructure and services.

Creating a ‘green’ network

Research in 2022 from the GSMA revealed that a mobile connection releases around 59 kilograms of carbon dioxide each year, and that mobile operators are responsible for around 490 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Operator networks consume energy in a variety of ways, from operating the radio access network (RAN), which uses the vast majority at 73%, to the core, data centres and other supporting operations. To power these operations, telcos are looking to implement renewable energy to power their networks, such as solar power, wind power and lithium-ion batteries, as well as investing in wireless technologies and equipment which consume a considerably lower amount of energy.

Despite the high energy consumption of 5G, the wireless technology is more energy-efficient in comparison to incumbent 2G, 3G and 4G networks, as it was developed with new standardisation around energy efficiency and power-saving features. Adding to its sustainability credentials, 5G networks are powered by new fibre infrastructure, which consumes considerably less energy in comparison to incumbent network infrastructure. Across Europe in particular, 2G and 3G sunsetting is well underway, which minimises energy usage across networks. However, many networks are still using legacy 4G infrastructure to run non-standalone 5G, which limits the energy-saving capabilities of retiring legacy networks.

Telcos can also utilise AI and ML to access data around energy usage and network performance, to highlight potential times and areas where network usage is lower and energy savings can be made. For example, AI and ML tools can be used to optimise 5G cell sites by adjusting levels to meet the change in demand for connectivity.

Optimising networks to ensure they are as ‘green’ and energy efficient as possible is only the first way in which telcos have a crucial role to play in creating a sustainable future. The underlying infrastructure is just as critical to act as a springboard for delivering the applications and services that can reduce our impact on the planet. High capacity, high bandwidth, low latency connectivity will be foundational, both as an enabler of a greener future and to help with the efficient and dynamic provision of network resources.

Connectivity for a sustainable future

It’s no secret that technology is a key enabler for sustainability, with AI and ML set to play a crucial role in enabling a green future. For example, AI is billed as a critical component in smart city technologies, capable of monitoring and managing busy transport routes to help reduce emissions, implementing new speed limits, or controlling streetlights to minimise energy usage. ML also plays a critical role in minimising energy usage, such as the ability to monitor and predict future energy levels to adjust output at particular times.

However, without the right connectivity infrastructure in place, these kinds of technologies would not be possible. For AI and ML to monitor and adjust power levels to meet changing demands it requires transmission of data, likely supported by 5G networks. This, in turn requires robust fibre backhaul. As such, the ‘green’ networks telcos are creating will also be a crucial enabler for implementing the technology which will minimise energy usage and create a green future.

The future of green networks

The importance of reducing energy consumption and creating a ‘greener’ future is clear. And telcos have a crucial role to play in creating a sustainable future, beginning with their own hardware and software and creating green networks, and using these green networks to power crucial technologies such as AI and ML which enable sustainability initiatives.

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