How can an operator implement a green ITN program?

Wed 03 Mar 2021

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Telecom operator are increasingly aware of the challenges existing at the level of CSR, notably the ones related to their carbon footprint. This is all the more true since they are facing a sharp increase in their OpEx-energy (which may be linked to variations in energy prices, an increase in the number of customers, an increase in usage ...).

On average, IT & Network (ITN) equipment and its hosting sites represent about 80% of the energy consumption and the total carbon footprint of a telecom operator (non-technical buildings and vehicles account for only 20 %.)

In this framework, more and more operators are questioning the opportunity to establish a green ITN program to meet their commitment to sustainable development and reduce their OpEX-energy. They are also aware of the impact of such an approach on their attractiveness to investors, their clients and in terms of brand value.

The key steps to set up a green ITN program

The implementation and the smooth running of such a program goes through the following key steps:

  • Establish an adapted governance;
  • Map energy consumption;
  • Qualify and quantify the pillars of reducing this consumption;
  • Ensure that supplier selection processes include energy consumption as one of the criteria for choosing equipment;
  • Influence the standardization of future technologies in order to optimize their energy consumption;
  • Verify the adequacy of the green CSR indicators and their numerical targets;
  • Prepare for the automation of the control of energy consumption by AI.

The governance of a green ITN program is a key success factor: such a program of the energy transformation of a telecom operator’s ITN concerns several of its areas of business: CSR, energy purchases, the THINK/BUILD/RUN procedures of ITN infrastructure (innovation management, standardization, spectrum management, architecture, design, engineering, capacity planning, eco-tech analysis …). Such a program must therefore be sponsored at the appropriate level of the company so that the relevant stakeholders are involved.

Mapping energy consumption by technical domain (e.g. equipment of radio access, wireline access, network core, air conditioning …) will make it possible to identify the areas that consume the most energy and have the greatest potential for gains. This mapping will be based on available data (measurements, information in the technical and billing information systems, etc.) but may also require additional energy consumption measurements (for example, the energy consumption billed for radio sites does not make it possible to distinguish the share of consumption due to radio equipment from that due to their technical environment).

Then for each domain, it is necessary to identify the pillars of reducing consumption, as well as the associated gains (in consumption and OpEx) and their implementation costs. These pillars can be of varied types: technology choice, technical architecture, software functionalities (e.g. low-power functionalities), engineering recommendations, etc. This work, carried out with the help of the technical teams and their feedback on their implementation should enable a catalog of levers to be drawn up. This catalog should be updated each year and communicated widely throughout the organization. 

We recommend that annual Energy Action Plans (EAPs) be drawn up for each entity in order to verify the achievement of the objectives set the previous year (area by area, then consolidated) and to define the objectives for the following year.

For a proper consideration of OpEx-energy in the procedure of selecting suppliers, it is necessary to:

  • Highlight through pilot experiments the energy consumptions of new equipment;
  • Modify the modify the specifications to include the obligation for suppliers to specify the consumption of their equipment,
  • Include in supplier contracts the obligation to monitor (measure) consumption and the implementation of penalties in the event of non-attainment of the figures indicated by the supplier,
  • Implement LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) methods in its RfPs (obligations for suppliers to provide information on CO2 emissions related to the manufacture of equipment covering the entire manufacturing chain, including contributions from subcontractors).

Future technologies, currently in the process of being standardized, will address the future challenges of energy performance for operators: for example, operators were able to express their expectations in terms of energy saving in standardization entities (NGMN, 3GPP), and influence the 5G radio interface standard (especially when it comes to ASM- Advanced Sleep Modes mechanisms).

It is important to define a quantified green ITN objective, for example a carbon footprint indicator per customer-use. This indicator must be included in the AEP and tracked over time.

Automation of the control of energy consumption by AI

The use of stored data by an operator (billing data, measurements, operating data, etc.) can be used to optimize ITN energy consumption and OpEx, but is little used today. AI can be a great means to accelerate the identification of earnings deposits, elaborate associated business case and action plan. However, the launching of such an approach requires a real effort to:

  • Find “good” use cases (AI management of air conditioning in data centers, management of RAN equipment by the C-SON of suppliers…)
  • Highlight the real gains associated with each use case.

What are the lessons and benefits for the operator?

First of all, the implementation of a green ITN approach allows the telecom operator to control its energy consumption, CO2 emissions and OpEx through measurement, modeling, planning of green actions and forecasting, in the main areas of ITN.

Illustrated by indicators, the absolute increase in consumption (in correlation with the growth of the customer base and customer usage) is examined with regard to the gains in terms of carbon footprint linked to the dematerialization of usage, thus avoiding the CO2 emissions linked to physical travel.

Some of OpEx's levers for saving energy and improving carbon footprint appear to be "quick wins" (e.g. de-commissioning inactive equipment, activating available low-power software features, complying with site temperature settings, cost assurance); but most of them require CapEx, so the savings from activating them alone do not usually provide a fast enough return on investment: It is then necessary to seize the windows of opportunity for ITN transformation (for example: SWAP or equipment renewal, deployment of a new technology) and integrate the gains made by these levers into a more global business plan.

Read the article in Telecom Review


Rémy Sfez

Business Manager Network