Ericsson highlights the telco industry’s green problem

Ericsson has unveiled a new report to promote itself with a green twist, but also highlighting the potential damage new 5G networks could have on the environment.

Like many self-serving politicians, Ericsson is using the green agenda to further it own credibility in the RAN segment, though it has stumbled across what is becoming a very serious issue which has been paid little attention to date. As more telcos integrate sustainability and green elements into the corporate strategies, new networks will be energy guzzlers the likes of which the industry has never seen.

It should not come as a surprise, as you can see from the diagram lifting from Ericsson’s ‘Breaking the Energy Curve’ report.

“The answer is yes,” Ericsson CTO Erik Ekudden writes in the report. “It is possible to break the energy curve, i.e. lowering total mobile network energy consumption from today’s level and meeting the massive traffic growth challenge.

“It is not just a possibility. In fact, we believe it is our responsibility, together with all other ICT industry players. Ericsson estimates the current yearly global energy cost of running mobile networks to be $25 billion. From both cost and carbon footprint perspectives, energy consumption is one of our industry’s biggest challenges.”

The impact of these networks on the environment is already quite apparent but will only become more severe unless more energy efficient solutions are sourced. Not only does higher spectrum usually mean more power, networks are set to become denser in the urban environments and more widespread through the rural ones.

Society’s appetite for data is only increasing, therefore networks will become more powerful and ubiquitous. This is demonstrated in the table below, a measure of the carbon emissions from O2 in the UK.

Carbon emissions
Year tCO2eq
2012 6,696.68
2013 8,432.71
2014 7,448.12
2015 10,840.78
2016 10,269.38
2017 7,699.95
2018 7,159.89

The numbers have been decreasing, partly thanks to more energy efficient solutions and clean technology, though the company will have also been offsetting its carbon footprint through various different schemes. Although it is better than nothing, these initiatives should not be seen as the answer as they simply cover up the damage which is being inflicted. Theoretically, burning down a family home and building one elsewhere offsets the consequence, but does it make up for the original act?

It might be a bit unfair to point the finger at O2 here. Every telco will most likely be the same, while progress is being made. The UK telco recently said it has plans to be carbon neutral by 2025 and has also been writing certain sustainability objectives into contracts with its suppliers.

Like O2, a raft of other telcos have been integrating climate change objectives into the corporate strategy. It is a top down effort which should herald results. Orange is another which has set itself a sustainability challenge, the Engage 2025 Strategy outlines an ambition to be carbon neutral by 2040, while BT said it would like to be carbon neutral by 2045 in its 2019 Sustainability report. The GSMA has pledged to get the industry carbon neutral by 2050.

While it might be easy to dismiss something of these statements as PR posturing, there are technologies emerging to aid such missions.

Ericsson offers multi-standard hardware platforms which can help reduce the physical footprint of a network, while it also offers spectrum sharing services to allow telcos to run 4G and 5G simultaneously on the same spectrum. Deploying the latest radio technologies can offer as much as a 30% reduction on energy consumption, a significant figure when you speak to the telco CTOs about how big their energy bills are.

Of course what is worth bearing in mind is that these networks are becoming increasingly dominated by software not hardware. There are new solutions which can dynamically shift performance of products to aid energy consumption. For example, Ericsson is boating of ‘RAN sleep mode’ features to its network management software to help manage the network more effectively. Viavi is another company which is championing new approaches to managing a network through software.

Paul Gowans, Global Director of Solutions Marketing at Viavi, highlighted to use the team had developed a geo-optimised machine learning based algorithm which scales-up and scales-down the performance of the network depending on demand. For example, the networks powering towns in a city’s commuter belt can be optimised between 9am and 5pm. Certain sites can be powered down as demand decreases during the working hours.

Building and managing networks more effectively will of course be a consideration for every telco, both from a commercial and CSR perspective, but what remains to be seen is whether these initiatives and technologies compensate for the increased impact of future networks. Being carbon neutral is all well and good, but if too much of this objective is attributable to projects to offset the initial impact, does it not undermine the ambition of being more environmentally conscious?

Vodafone joins the EU in announcing major diversity initiative

Operator group Vodafone has decided to speak for the whole industry on diversity, while the EU is seeking to impose gender balance quotas on the whole bloc.

The Vodafone thing is called #changetheface because it strives to change the face of technology. That seems to refer primarily to sex as, apparently, the balance between men and women is wrong. Vodafone knows this because it commissioned a survey and, when asked to describe technology as a person, the majority of respondents answered that the person would be young, white, middle-class and mostly male.

“#ChangeTheFace is Vodafone’s commitment to improving our diversity and inclusion at Vodafone,” said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group. “We are urging the technology industry to act now so we build a digital future that reflects society and works for everyone.” A special website urges people to make diversity pledges and even offers some suggestions in case people aren’t sure what the rules are, which you can see below.

The Vodafone announcement says Ericsson and Nokia have been among the first to get on board with this ‘industry-wide initiative’. Neither of them seems to have made separate announcements, however, with Ericsson preferring to talk about how committed to sustainability it is. There were no CSR announcements from Nokia at time of writing, so maybe it figures it ticked that box already with its recent ethics announcement.

Meanwhile, and perhaps not coincidentally, the European Commission has unveiled its gender equality strategy. As you would expect from the EU, it’s a wide-ranging set of positions and directives covering sexual equality in general, and specifically pay, opportunities and ‘gender-based violence’.

“Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality,” said EC President Ursula von der Leyen. “In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough. With the gender equality strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women.”

“Europe is a good address for women, despite all shortcomings,” said VP for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová. “As our society is undergoing important transitions, be it green or digital, we must ensure that women and men have equal opportunities and that inequalities are not further exacerbated by change. On the contrary, we have to create conditions for women to be agents for a fair transition at work and in private.”

“The pursuit of equality does not require the shifting of anything from one basket to another,” said Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli. “Equality is an infinite resource, and there is enough of it for everyone. On the flipside, discrimination costs the individuals that suffer it and society as a whole dearly, in lack of personal recognition, lack of meritocracy and loss of talent and innovation.”

While not in any way shifting anything from one basket to another, the EC has implemented a number of ‘concrete actions’. The most remarkable of these is a push for ‘gender balance’ on the boards of all European companies. To lead by example, the Commission will is aiming to reach gender balance of 50% at all levels of its management by the end of 2024.

The EC announcement also asserts that European women, on average, earn 16% less than men. It doesn’t specify whether this this is for the same job or just a broad average, but it clearly thinks this is a statistic that needs correcting regardless. Lastly there is a push to criminalise violence against women, the only surprising aspect of which is the inference that it’s not already criminalised.

These announcements are presumably timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, which takes place on Sunday 8 March and has the strapline ‘An equal world is an enabled world.’ There will presumably be other corporate initiatives of these kinds around the day as the pressure to show they’re doing their bit mounts.