Green 5G networks and the future of sustainable telecoms

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Green 5G networks and the future of sustainable telecoms

From the telecommunications industry to politics, sustainability and climate change are among the crucial issues of the modern age, but exactly how to tackle these crucial issues remains controversial.

The recent COP26 conference in Glasgow, which united the UN to develop a coherent strategy to combat climate change, has largely been condemned as a failure, showing that the world is not on track to achieve the goals set. in the Paris Agreement. In fact, even if all promises made at or before COP26 were to be met, statistics from the International Energy Agency show that global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius, exceeding the 1.5 degree limit set in the agreement.

It is clear that work must be done – and on an international scale – if we are to prevent a climate catastrophe in the coming years.

But exactly what role can the technology and telecommunications sector play in this journey?

This was the question that the ITU sought to answer in an online panel session entitled ‘Greener our own house: Managing the environmental footprint of digital technologies‘, which took place on 24 November.

The session featured a hugely diverse panel, including speakers from telecommunications technology leaders Ericsson, Huawei and Immersion4; officials from Egypt, Costa Rica and Egypt; the French supervisory body ARCEP; and even the World Health Organization, all of which were invited to share their views on the challenges and opportunities of digital technology in a sustainable context.

Telecommunications: A green industry, but not green enough

Communication technology has long been considered something of a double-edged sword when it comes to sustainability. On the one hand, as the world becomes more and more digital and data demand increases, electricity consumption will correspondingly increase, which could potentially lead to a huge increase in footprint. On the other hand, next-generation connectivity options, such as 5G, will be paramount to facilitate the digital transformation and thus deliver secondary environmental benefits.

In fact, despite increasing demand, recent statistics from GSMA suggest that the mobile industry is only responsible for about 0.4% of global carbon emissions.

But while this may seem like an impressively low figure in itself, the broader ICT industry aims to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 45% between 2020 and 2030, a transformation that will not only depend on exploiting new technologies, but also on a change of attitude throughout the industry.

Make Your Own House Greener First: The Huawei Case

For Huawei, this greener mindset begins with making your own operations more sustainable. For many years, the company has been working to reduce their environmental impact, with Huawei’s Deputy Director of Wireless Marketing, Daisy Zhu, on the panel noting the company’s commitment to various projects, from harnessing renewable energy to recyclable packaging.

“We are committed to minimizing the environmental impact during production, operation and throughout the life cycle of our services,” she said. “We look at every aspect of the production and operation of our products.”

In fact, this approach is already having a major impact on the company’s overall emissions, which have shrunk markedly over the past decade.

“In 2020, our carbon emissions per million RMB of revenue were 33.2% lower compared to the base year 2012. Our target was 30%, so we not only fulfilled the obligation, but are now doing an even better job,” Zhu explained. “If we look ahead, in 2025 we will reduce CO2 emissions per million RMB of revenue by 16% compared to 2019 levels.”

But the sustainable value of the ICT industry obviously goes far beyond making their own operations more sustainable. The digital technologies and connectivity that the industry enables enable their customers to better achieve their own sustainability transformations.

The extent of this impact can not be underestimated, and a recent GSMA study suggests that ICT technology can deliver a tenfold positive effect when it comes to sustainability.

“This means that a single kWh of power consumption from mobile network infrastructure will lead to a 10-kWh reduction in electricity consumption in the community,” Zhu explained.

Energy efficiency is the key

When it comes to sustainability, of course, there is one elephant in space that needs to be assessed: energy consumption.

As data demand rises higher than ever before, networks must inevitably grow to meet this demand, leading to higher energy consumption. As a result, it can be misleading to judge the sustainability of networks solely on the basis of absolute energy consumption; a nationwide grid will have a much higher energy consumption than a smaller, localized grid, but its impact on society will be much greater.

“If you really wanted to reduce carbon emissions, we would have to turn off all networks – but we can not go back to the old days, back to our old lives,” Zhu said, reiterating the ten times sustainability benefits that these technologies can. bring to various vertical industries. “Operators have never limited their green strategies to reducing emissions only from their own networks – they must help meet the growing environmental demands of consumers.”

Instead of the absolute energy consumption, Zhu argues that it is actually energy efficiency that should be the metric by which networks are judged. This will give operators a fairer, more objective standard for developing greener networks, and guide them towards the green 5G networks that will be needed to achieve low-carbon goals.

“Energy efficiency will be a key factor,” Zhu explained. “Network efficiency gives network operators a clear objective standard by which to measure their performance.”

Building green networks

This focus on energy efficiency is evident in the company’s own technologies.

Zhu explained how their Single Radio Access Network (SingleRAN) technology, which was released in 2007 and allows a single piece of hardware to support 2G, 3G and 4G simultaneously, has had a major impact on the network’s energy efficiency over the last decade and a half. .

“This SingleRAN profoundly changed the requirements of the sites compared to traditional implementations,” Zhu said. “It’s really cost effective and really energy efficient. It can reduce the power consumption of each base station by 50%.”

Recently, the company has focused on using Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology to improve the performance of their network.

“This is another technology that can greatly improve the throughput and speed of the end user, while improving the energy efficiency of the products,” she said. “Massive MIMO is already one of the common technologies for 5G.”

Earlier this year, the company’s latest innovations include MetaAAU, an extremely large-scale antenna system that will further reduce massive MIMO power consumption by 30%.

In addition to these hardware innovations, Huawei also leverages technologies such as AI to make network management more efficient. Zhu notes that the company launched its PowerStar solution back in 2018, a solution that uses AI to monitor real-time network demand and optimize energy consumption accordingly without sacrificing customer performance. PowerStar 2.0, released this year, will further reduce the power consumption of networks across 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G by up to 25%.

Based on the fact that 6.5 million 5G sites will be estimated globally by 2025, this means that the PowerStar solution can reduce network emissions by 43 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next four years.

Collaborate to succeed

Creating greener networks and a greener ICT industry is clearly largely dependent on technological innovations, but this alone will not be enough to deliver the sustainable transition required to avert climate change. To maximize the value of these technologies and truly make a difference, the ICT and telecommunications industry must work with regulators, governments and each other to advance the sustainable agenda. From working on new solutions to developing coherent standards, dialogue and collaboration will be the key to building a greener future.

“We can either work together and make it happen as a team, or we will lose as individuals, one decision at a time,” said Serge Conesa, founder and CEO of Sustainable Data Center Specialists Immersion4 SA and last speaker on the ITU panel . “We have a great opportunity to do it right. It’s never too late.”

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