Sustainable innovations are the future of telecommunications periodically invites expert third parties to share their insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this song Ane-Marte Weng, Senior Director, Sustainable Telco Lead at Capgemini Invent, examines the role of the telecommunications industry in the broader sustainability agenda.

The telecommunications industry will be a vital part of the push towards a net zero future. It is well positioned on a frontier that can promote a sustainable future, both by helping other industries achieve net zero, as well as driving internal change to reduce carbon emissions in their own operations. Through innovation in telecom-enabled technologies such as IoT, public and private 5G networks, MPN and Edge, telecom operators can act as an enabler in several critical industries, helping them contribute to a future greener.

Sustainability and the challenges ahead

As discussions at COP26 late last year showed, a low-carbon future must become a matter of when, not if, and collectively we are running out of time to put bring about real change. A point highlighted by the latest IPCC climate reports. This will, of course, prove extremely difficult in the years to come, as 50% reductions are needed in the decades leading up to 2050. The telecommunications industry, however, is well equipped to act as a catalyst for this change, by harnessing its own technological innovations to help reduce carbon emissions.

Fundamentally, it is no longer just a company’s carbon footprint that is being questioned, but also the carbon footprint – the impact that companies have on others, such as customers and suppliers throughout of the value chain. While ESG is a broader topic than just the environment, the growing focus on ESG means that organizations are now being examined under the microscope with much greater granularity. As we move towards a net-zero future, ESG has become essential for generating value and revenue, as shareholders are already beginning to view it as an indicator of future prosperity.

It is true that for telcos, the climate crisis represents a challenge, but it also presents a serious opportunity. One that will help them implement change through strategic and cross-industry partnerships and drive value, maximizing the return on their 5G investment through self-designed ecosystems, facilitated and dependent on mobile and digital technologies.

Telco’s place in the push for a green future

Telecommunications organizations – compared to other key industries – perform relatively well in terms of energy consumption; about 0.6% of global electricity consumption and a share of GDP of 2-3%. However, getting a reasonable return on investment from 5G deployment will require more innovation, which will inevitably lead to increased energy consumption. Energy costs already exceed 20% of the operating budget of telecom operators, in some cases reaching 40%; diesel-centric markets exceeding this figure.

Although 5G offers greater energy efficiency per gigabyte than 4G, it is estimated to increase data usage by 400%. With major 5G investment helping to drive innovation, it is incumbent on telecom companies to factor the inevitable increase in electricity consumption into their sustainability goals.

Fortunately, the rollout of 5G signals a reduction in reliance on legacy 2G and 3G networks and many companies across Europe have already signaled their intentions. In Germany, for example, Vodafone switched off its 3G in 2021 and has committed to decommissioning its 2G network by 2025. While switching off existing networks will undoubtedly contribute to carbon emissions, the transition to more energy-efficient 4G and 5G networks is an important element. step towards a net zero future.

While telecom operators must work to ensure their own home is under control, and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will make network activation more energy efficient. energy, it’s in other industries that will likely have the biggest impact in the push for net zero.

Telecom Operators as Enablers – How Can Industries Benefit?

According to the GSMA’s Sustainability Radar, mobile and digital technologies can help the four major emitting industries – manufacturing, power, transport and buildings – reduce required CO2 emissions by 40% over the next decade. Significantly, these industries contribute about 80% of global CO2 emissions each year. It is through telecom-enabled technologies such as IoT and 5G that the move to net zero can be facilitated, and some industries have already seen incredible results.

Take for example SVH Energy, an off-grid energy distributor. With the help of Orange, they deployed new telemetry solutions on their gas tanks in Europe and the United States. Thanks to IoT devices, it has been possible to reduce carbon emissions and optimize gas delivery routes. When it comes to smart buildings, IoT plays a crucial role in energy consumption, with sensors delivering 3-5% savings. Although this may seem like a drop in the bucket, for a skyscraper like London’s “Gherkin”, that’s 80 tons of CO2 saved per year, or the equivalent of more than five city buses. carbon that will not enter the atmosphere. Getting to net zero will take enormous effort. To have a chance of succeeding, organizations and countries will need to strive to implement 50% carbon emissions reductions in each successive decade through 2050. Undoubtedly, the hardest part will be the first. , through 2030. That said, mobile and digital technology innovations are setting the pace and, through cross-industry collaboration, driving real, tangible change.

Value chain management

5G is not only a beacon for energy efficiency and a green future, but it also presents another opportunity for telecom operators. The growth and inclusion of 5G in the global market is marked by the need to put into practice the lessons learned from the deployment of 4G. Big tech has capitalized on the expansion and market value of 4G, dramatically improving their services and reaping the benefits, while telecom operators have been left somewhat behind. In this next phase, avoiding the mistakes of the past will take the form of telecom operators using their services as a value chain to promote expansion. This can take shape through sustainability as a service and mobile as a service, paving the way for maintaining an ecological balance while generating revenue.

Sustainability and digital transformation are more intertwined than ever, and telecom operators’ view on this is primarily why they rely on the all-important frontier as drivers of value. The frontier on which they exist is one that facilitates change through the net zero operations of peer industries. On top of that, they are also driving change by creating 5G-enabled technologies and providing innovative services to achieve it. With these provisions, the sustainable future we all want has a capable anchor in its place.

Ane-Marte Weng leads the drive to develop sustainability solutions as a strategic capability for Capgemini’s global telecommunications business. With over 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, she is passionate about how we, as individuals and organizations, can create long-term, tangible and lasting value.