Climate Change

23 Feb 2022

Green 5G Solutions Can Help Meet Global Carbon Neutral Goals

23 Feb 2022  by   

Turn of the decade calls for revitalized global climate action

The ongoing global warming and climate change are now exposing humanity to future threats, and their consequences are already impacting many regions of the world and affecting hundreds of millions of human lives as we speak.

According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the global temperature on Earth has increased significantly in recent years at roughly a rate of 0.2° Celsius (1.9° Fahrenheit) per decade. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions are one of the most important causes of this increase, principally due to the unwise use of energy sources (both production and consumption) that are necessary to fuel the development of many industries and economies.

This development is now prompting global climate action, which has ramped up, with 4,500 industrial and business corporations joining the United Nations-backed Race to Zero campaign to halve carbon emissions by 2030.

The mobile telecommunications industry, which is responsible for 6% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is also considered to be an industry with a very high carbon footprint. According to a recent study from ABI Research, this sector is responsible for up to 2% of the world’s electricity consumption, representing 19.8 Million Tonnes Oil Equivalent (Mtoe) per year in 2020. This consumption is expected to increase more than 2.5-fold to reach 51.3 Mtoe in 2030. This increase is due the migration of public networks to 5G and the consequent explosion in mobile data traffic, but also due to the growing adoption of the technology by the enterprise market across various industry verticals. This consumption would be equivalent to the total energy consumed in Sweden or Norway, or roughly the same amount consumed by all the households in Australia or the United Kingdom in 2030.

However, the mobile telecommunications industry has been very active in reducing the overall carbon emissions with at least 36% of the sector committing to a net-zero carbon goal by 2050 or earlier. In early 2020, a carbon reduction plan for mobile operators to lower carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 was also created by collaborative efforts between the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the GSMA, and the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Mobile operators are crucial for enacting change

Today, major tier one mobile operators are very active in creating corporate strategies to better manage the energy consumption of their networks and lower their carbon emissions with clear plans to achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest. They are aligning their business strategies with green strategies to prevent the ongoing industrial digitalization processes they are committed to from inducing increased CO2 emissions. Some large network operators, such as Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica have pledged to be net zero earlier than 2030.

Given their unique position within the telecommunications value chain, telco operators can influence the decarbonization of the entire sector, thanks to four main areas of impact they can control and act on, as described below.

The Supply Chain: Mobile operators should integrate their green strategy within their equipment procurement process and make energy efficiency one of the most fundamental factors in their supplier selection process. They should increase transparency by setting universal standards for benchmarking equipment based on their carbon footprint. Most importantly, they should work tightly with infrastructure vendors on the co-creation of environmentally sustainable solutions and not be concerned about performance only. They should look at deploying more energy-efficient equipment through accelerating Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration and accelerate their network automation processes to lower workforce intervention and reduce travel time.

Network Modernization: Infrastructure modernization is a key factor in slowing down or even reversing a network’s energy consumption, and this becomes even more important as the industry moves from 4G to 5G networks. The modernization of both passive and active infrastructure will enable mobile operators to lower the overall energy per gigabit of traffic carried over their networks. For example, mobile operators should swap out their legacy equipment for modern equipment that is able to automatically calibrate energy resources as a function of the amount of traffic transiting the network. They should invest in better network resource management tools to maximize network efficiency without compromising energy efficiency.

Investment in Renewable Energies: Mobile operators should deploy more efficient and renewable or hybrid power solutions onsite and use green sites that rely less on intensive cooling systems. Empowering their networks with these technologies, when possible, will enable them to lower the overall CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. They should also instruct infrastructure suppliers in building equipment that is ready to be powered by renewable energy sources.

Promote the Enterprise Digitization and Industrial Digital Transformation: The migration to 5G brings with it a huge opportunity for helping many industries transform and digitize their businesses. Enterprises that will be using 5G for automation and digitization could reduce their CO2 emissions by 78% by 2030 according to ABI Research.

Case study of China Mobile green 5G project

To illustrate the points discussed above, the Green 5G Project launched by China Mobile and Huawei in 2021 is a case study that provides a sense of what should be done to make mobile networks greener and more friendly to the environment. It is worth noting that China Mobile is the largest mobile operator in the world with almost 1 billion mobile subscribers or 18% of global mobile subscriptions. China Mobile owns the largest mobile network infrastructure in the world with a total number of base stations exceeding 5.3 million, 10% of which support 5G networks, making the operator the most aggressive player deploying 5G so far. From this perspective, many Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will be following in the footsteps of the Chinese giant to achieve their targets of reducing their CO2 emissions.

Partnership is key in accelerating the 2030 net-zero carbon goal

The Green 5G Project launched by China Mobile in partnership with Huawei could be considered as a reference, demonstrating how mobile operators, in collaboration with the right partners, can generate significant energy savings and advance closer to the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. As far as ABI Research is aware, this type of collaboration is unique and will no doubt enable China Mobile to accelerate its green strategies in line to its target to achieve carbon neutrality and carbon peaking before 2030. China Mobile has already managed to reduce Its network energy consumption by 50%.

These benefits were achieved through the streamlining of cell sites, leveraging new technologies enabled by 5G, such as Massive Multiple Input, Multiple Output (mMIMO), and enabling cost savings through digital transformation for enterprises through 5G. An example of streamlining cell sites is GreenSite, a cell site solution by Huawei that replaced the need for equipment rooms, thus generating energy savings as air conditioners in equipment rooms account for approximately 30% of cell sites’ total energy consumption.

Additional energy savings were also gained through innovations in antenna technology and efficiencies in spectrum band utilization. For example, the MetaAAU (Active Antenna Unit) deployed 384 antenna arrays compared to the traditional 192 and managed to increase coverage by 3 Decibels (dB), while reducing energy consumption by 30%. Spectral efficiency was also achieved through the deployment of Ultra-Wideband (UWB) Remote Radio Units (RRUs), which could support three frequency bands per RRU. As 5G will require the use of mMIMO technology and more frequency bands, mobile operators should look toward maximizing efficiencies in their Radio Access Network (RAN) through increasing antennas per AAU and using RRUs that have multi-band support.

Beyond optimizing RAN architecture, intelligent cell site management through leveraging AI can also further reduce carbon emissions. Mobile operators can incorporate smart base station technology that uses AI to predict optimal sleep and wake cycles based on real-time analysis of network traffic patterns to save energy. The Green 5G Project doubled cell site energy savings by deploying PowerStar2.0. The Global Mobile (GLOMO) award-winning technology is now in its second commercial generation. The technology uses AI to calculate load thresholds in real time, thus dynamically shutting off and switching on carriers and channels to save energy.

5G as sustainability enabler for customers

Mobile operators can also enact positive change for their customers by helping achieve energy savings and thus reducing carbon emissions through digital transformation with 5G. ABI Research finds that by conservative estimates, 5G deployments can reduce energy consumption by almost 290,000 Terawatts (TW) of energy by 2030 across global manufacturing, transportation, consumer and logistics sectors.

These savings are driven by 5G use cases, such as Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), Augmented Reality (AR) solutions and remote crane operations, which generate operational efficiencies. For example, a smart warehouse using 5G-enabled Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and asset tracking solutions can save the average warehouse 2.14 million Kilowatts (kW) annually by 2030. An airport using 5G to enhance operations can decrease the ground time of each airplane by 3 minutes, which translates into energy savings of 296 kW per airplane. The Green 5G Project, by deploying 5G into industry verticals like steel manufacturing, has managed to reduce carbon emissions for participating industries by more than 400 million tons of CO2.

Sustainability is a team effort

Fostering increased engagement among suppliers, end users, renewable energy providers and mobile operators is crucial in achieving net-zero goals. For example, Telefónica has committed to reduce value chain carbon emissions by up to 39% by 2025 and launched the Supplier Engagement Program to work with suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Orange group has diversified its engagements by collaborating with Energy Services Companies (ESCO) to source for renewable energy.

China Mobile and Huawei have also set up the Green 5G Joint Innovation Lab with multiple partners from various industries to develop new energy-efficient 5G solutions. This would allow Huawei and China Mobile to replicate their success from the Green 5G Project across other industries and partners.


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