PARTNER CONTENT: Energy efficiency, creation of a circular economy and reaching net zero targets are front of mind for operators and other industry players across the globe and, although the way ahead remains challenging, there’s plenty of help and advice out there to help companies achieve their green ambitions.
In an interview held in the Huawei extended reality studio at MWC Barcelona 2022, Mobile World Live caught-up with managing partner at consultancy business Detecon, Steffen Roos, and doctor Paolo Gemma, chair of working party 2 at the ITU-T’s Study Group 5, to discuss their work in this area.
Roos noted to get to a “green network”, which includes specific elements focused on sustainability alongside reliable and robust infrastructure for communications, operators should hone in on two areas: the actual components and KPIs.
“First of all what is built in the network, the elements, components, etc… should be sustainable. They should be very efficient in terms of carbon footprint during the full life cycle of the products,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s very important to have specific KPIs in place to have very specific measurement points so you can see how the network is living in terms of energy efficiency.”
These targets, he added, should look at real-time and daily statistics assessing progress towards more carbon neutral operations.
Assessing KPIs for green networks are an area the ITU-T has been sharply focused on for some years, with Gemma noting the organisation’s working group covering the area had highlighted several indicators defined as being of great importance.
Among these he pointed to a Network Carbon Intensity (NCI) indicator, which assesses how many kilos of CO2 are emitted for each terabyte of data transmitted in the network. Another statistic covered is site energy efficiency, which takes into account total consumption and can be a vital tool in assessing the complete environmental impact of operations.
“We will continue our research to define better indicators in the future to see what is necessary for the industry operator[s],” Gemma added.
The expert’s ITU group focuses on environment, climate change and circular economy and currently has more than a hundred participants across operators, manufacturers, academia and industry. These include the likes of Huawei, Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia.
It is also open to new participants interested in contributing to the work in this very important area, which is becoming a key priority as operators continue to take measures to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
In recent years mobile players large and small have set stringent targets for themselves not only within their core business but also applicable to their whole supply chain. This factor also means those selling to operators must also be able to define and guarantee the green credentials of their products and services.
Discussing the ITU’s work, Gemma highlighted it was important its indicators were not used to directly compare one operator to another but to create a consensus on how to measure.
“Creating a KPI is easy because you can write it … and finish the work, Gemma added. “The problem is to create the methodology to make a useful KPI, because we need to create [one] that people like Steffen can use.”
“It is very difficult to find an agreement between different operators and find a KPI that is easy to measure and really useful,” he noted. “We hope that we [will] invent standards with a common methodology that is actually used by operators to report the carbon emissions and carbon intensity emissions [from] the network.”
The high engagement levels with sustainability and green network efforts show a real desire from across the industry to make an impact, but even when the indicators are in place significant challenges still remain in actually cutting emissions and energy usage.
“One important thing we have to have in mind is that networks are a complex environment,” Roos said, noting there were parts of the network where “we currently miss the sustainability topic”.
Specifically, he highlighted element management systems (EMS) and OSS systems within mobile network infrastructure.
Here, he pointed to the opportunity to use data to monitor the network in real time and gain recommendations where interventions needed to be made, while “in an ideal world” the network and components could react to what’s going on themselves.
Discussing net zero targets widely adopted by businesses across many industries, Roos said the largest direct contributor to mobile operator emissions is the network itself, with energy consumption and materials used to build it the major culprits.
“If we have KPIs in place [and] systems which are able to measure and analyse the networks, and we can predict actions to reduce emissions, it would really help support operators on their way towards a greener future and a green telecommunications industry,” he added.
Measures being undertaken across the mobile industry were stepped up as the ITU voiced its ambitions for the sector immediately after the signing of the Paris Agreement, which is an international pledge designed to address climate change.
As one of its targets the ITU challenged the entire ICT industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. The measures were backed by the GSMA and a large number of mobile industry players.
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