3 ways telcos can accelerate net zero efforts and reduce power consumption

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This week, more than 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and the media will gather for WEF’s annual meeting — and sustainability will be top of the agenda. With the burgeoning energy crisis, the need to reduce energy consumption has never been more acute.

To date, much of the focus has centered around decarbonizing heavy industries — less so on telco. Yet according to Boston Consulting Group, the telco industry is responsible for 3 to 4% of global CO2 emissions, about twice the level of the much more heavily scrutinized aviation sector.

The challenge for telcos is that other industries’ solution to decarbonize is often to digitize — which generates more data. The Radio Access Network (RAN), the part of the network that connects individual devices to other parts of a network, already accounts for 75% of a telco’s energy consumption. And in early 2022, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the sector could consume 20% of the world’s energy supply by 2030, up from an estimated 9% today.

But the industry is already moving in the right direction. The International Telecom Union (ITU) set a target for the industry to reach net zero by 2050. And, according to the GSMA’s Mobile Net Zero report, 60 mobile operators accounting for 66% of global mobile connections have disclosed climate impact, risks and opportunities.

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Here are three important ways telcos can accelerate net zero efforts and reduce power consumption.

1. Move to the cloud and embrace clean energy to power operations

We’re already seeing telcos embrace the cloud, such as Sweden’s Vilma, Spark New Zealand and DISH. This move to the cloud doesn’t only simplify operations, but it helps telcos reduce power consumption.

Multiple studies conducted by international analyst firm 451 Research, part of S&P Global Intelligence, found that migrating on-premises workloads to AWS can lower the workload carbon footprint by nearly 80%. Amazon is the world’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy today, and once AWS is powered with 100% renewable energy (a goal of 2025), the resulting carbon savings for workloads rises to 96%.

AWS’s infrastructure is 3.6 times more energy efficient than the median of surveyed U.S. enterprise data centers and up to 5 times more energy efficient than the average European enterprise data center. Those are real and immediate energy savings that telcos can plug into just by migrating their workloads to the cloud.

Further, innovation in processors in the 5G core can similarly reduce energy use. For example, in Japan, NTT Docomo and NEC reduced energy consumption by an average of 72% against incumbent processors leveraging AWS Graviton2.

2. Optimize network build-outs for resiliency and efficiency

When planning network build-outs, telcos can use spatial analytics to more efficiently build and operate their networks, as well as be more resilient in the face of climate change.

Accounting for climate change helps build more resilient networks, which reduces the potential to replace damaged equipment. For example, AT&T is working with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to develop a Climate Change Analysis Tool (CCAT) that projects flooding and winds in the southeastern U.S. over the next 30 years. And in Asia, LGUplus is leveraging the cloud as a backup network to continue to provide communications in the event a natural disaster impacts network equipment.

3. Transform operations to be dynamic and eliminate excess energy use

Finally, telcos can reduce energy use by operating networks more dynamically. Power usage is greatest in the radio access network (RAN) segment of a carrier’s mobile network, where cell towers provide access to individual’s mobile phones. In a traditional network, these facilities operate at full utilization, even when the customer demand is not there.

Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies can help operators better estimate end-user demand and measure corresponding radio attributes to adjust RAN settings in real time. This improves mobile network energy consumption without impacting network performance. There is a lot of testing and innovation happening in this arena, and we expect to see more use cases and successful trials in the coming months.

There are multiple other levers, including IoT technology working in conjunction with smart homes, energy storage chemistry improvements and so on. Combined with these three approaches, telcos can make a significant impact in achieving net zero targets and reducing energy consumption — and aid the bottom line. And with the current economic climate, there’s no better time to prioritize these initiatives.

Sameer Vuyyuru is director of worldwide business development for the telecom industry at AWS.

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