The shift to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the need for digital solutions to support home-working environments (BCG, 2021). This unprecedented demand for digital communications across the globe has pushed the Telecoms industry’s energy consumption higher than ever before (BCG, 2021). 3% to 4% of global CO2 emissions are attributed to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector (BCG, 2021). According to a BCG report, the ICT industry may be responsible for up to 14% of CO2 emissions by 2040 if steps are not taken to diminish the environmental impact of companies within this sector (BCG, 2021).
Although the ICT sector forms part of the problem, it will also play a significant role in the solution (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). Digital technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, will enable the Telecoms Industry to introduce crucial reductions in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions across a variety of economical sectors (Telecom Review Africa, 2022).
We discuss how these digital technologies can promote sustainability:
According to a 2020 study by Nokia and Telefonica, 5G networks are up to 90% more energy efficient per traffic unit than its predecessor, 4G (Twiford Dee and Viveros, 2022). However, 5G enables increased use of cloud services, AI, and streaming, which could increase the overall energy consumption by these digital technologies (Twiford Dee and Viveros, 2022). Chern, Gabriel, and Hansang (2020) explain however that 5G’s power efficiency can be unlocked by employing a multilayered approach to network deployment and management.
Combining cloud, virtualisation, edge computing, renewable energy sources and AI analytics with 5G can assist industries in implementing new processes and assist industries in supporting efficient and flexible resource allocation (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). Telecom Review Africa (2022) states that the Telecoms industry’s ability to utilise “5G-powered smart technology” could reduce annual emissions by 6%.
Suppose operators move their IT operations to either a private, public or hybrid cloud. In that case, they can significantly reduce carbon emissions and electricity consumption, as the cloud not only requires fewer servers but are also more efficiently powered (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). Cloud data centres generally consume less wattage to provide cooling and backup power as they are designed to use energy efficiently to achieve the optimal temperature and utilisation (Telecom Review Africa, 2022).
Research by Capgemini reveals that cloud computing has the potential to eliminate 1 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions between 2021 and 2024 (Telecom Review Africa, 2022).
AI needs to be employed in conjunction with 5G networks in order to drive sustainability. AI algorithms are designed and built to repeatedly optimise costs and network operations (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). AI and the use of renewable energy sources are central to many CSP (Communication Service Providers) strategies for promoting sustainable energy use (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). According to Telecom Review Africa (2022), zero-touch automation within AI solutions improves energy savings by aligning real-time network demands with usage patterns. They continue to state that these tools are able to identify performance anomalies that drain energy resources while also indicating which equipment needs to be replaced in order to reach optimal efficiency (Telecom Review Africa, 2022).
IoT algorithms, sensors, and numerous communication networks are used to automate the creation and distribution of energy to promote a more sustainable approach (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the energy consumption of IoT sensors and networks for its distribution and storage would reduce the price per kilowatt, promote greater efficiency and increase the use of renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar and hydro (Telecom Review Africa, 2022). Furthermore, projects such as connecting infrastructure and buildings to IoT or smart transportation have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, decrease energy consumption and enhance air quality (Telecom Review Africa, 2022).
A large number of major players in the Telecoms Industry have signed up to reduce their energy needed per unit of traffic by around 70% by 2030 (BCG, 2021). BCG (2021) predicts that action taken by the ICT industry to promote sustainable practices could remove up to 15% of all global emissions by 2030. Through the use of 5G, Cloud, IoT, and AI, the Telecoms industry can promote sustainability across various economic sectors.
BCG, 2021. Telco Sector Can Be Game-Changer on Sustainability, Shrinking Its Own, Other Industries’ Carbon Footprints. [online] BCG. Available at: <https://www.bcg.com/press/24june2021-telco-sector-game-changer-sustainability-shrinking-carbon-footprints>
Chern, A., Gabriel, C. and Hansang, A., 2020. Green 5G: Building a Sustainable World. [ebook] London: Analysys Mason Limited, p.12. Available at: <https://www-file.huawei.com/-/media/corp2020/pdf/public-policy/green_5g_building_a_sustainable_world_v1.pdf?la=en>
Telecom Review Africa, 2022. Telcos: A frontrunner in connecting the world sustainably. [online] Telecom Review Africa. Available at: <https://www.telecomreviewafrica.com/index.php/en/articles/features/2635-telcos-a-frontrunner-in-connecting-the-world-sustainably>
Twiford Dee, C. and Viveros, M., 2022. The Unexpected Role of 5G and Telcos in Helping Industries Reduce Carbon Emissions | Spiceworks. [online] Spiceworks. Available at: <https://www.spiceworks.com/tech/networking/guest-article/the-unexpected-role-of-5g-and-telcos-in-helping-industries-reduce-carbon-emissions/>