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Demand for telcos to prioritise efficiency and sustainability in 5G nets

Research reveals that embracing best practices and partnering with customers to amplify efficiency will be key for operators

While there is general consensus that 5G will be the most transformative communications technology in a generation and will enable a universe of new services, research from STL Partners and Vertiv has highlighted the practical challenges of 5G energy management that operators face.

The report Why energy management is critical to 5G success, from the telecoms consultancy and provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity systems, uses research including a survey of 500 enterprises globally to outline the challenges telcos face as they wrestle with the increased energy use and costs associated with 5G.

The study notes Nokia data showing estimates that 5G networks can be up to 90% more efficient per traffic unit than their 4G predecessors, but they still require far more energy because of increased network density, heavy reliance on IT systems and infrastructure, and increased network use and accelerated traffic growth.

STL and Vertiv say telcos should address these challenges in two ways – by adopting energy-efficiency best practices across their networks, and by encouraging their customers to adopt 5G-enabled services to reduce consumption and emissions in all walks of life. 

STL estimates that global 5G traffic will overtake 3G/4G as soon as 2025, making sustainability an urgent priority for operators. In fact, 40% of enterprises surveyed for the report indicated that energy efficiency should be the first or second priority for telecom operators when deploying 5G networks.

In terms of influencing customer behaviours in order to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, the report identified three industries with the potential for significant improvement through the use of 5G services.

It said the manufacturing sector could achieve up to $730bn worth of benefits by 2030 through the use of 5G to enable advanced predictive maintenance and automation.

Secondly, the report noted that transportation and logistics could gain up to $280bn in benefits by 2030 through advanced driver assistance, connected traffic infrastructure and automated home deliveries.

Finally, the report suggested that 5G could allow the healthcare sector to provide improved access to healthcare services for up to one billion patients by 2030 while simultaneously reducing emissions through higher asset utilisation, reduced patient and clinician travel, and higher clinician productivity.

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However, the study also said that while influencing such behaviours was critical to operators’ efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of 5G, there was work to do to build the partnerships needed. Just 37% of those surveyed said they saw operators as credible partners in reducing carbon emissions today, but 56% said they believed telcos could be credible partners in the future.

The study identified several best practices aimed at mitigating those increases and costs, organised across five categories – network technology, that is deploying hardware and software designed and operated for efficiency; facilities infrastructure, including new edge datacentres to support cloud-native IT; infrastructure management, such as deploying the appropriate hardware and software to measure, monitor, manage, improve and automate the network; organisation and evaluation, which would take a holistic, full-lifecycle view of costs and investments across the network; and working with others, such as embracing innovative and non-traditional commercial models, standards and collaboration.

“Telecom operators making meaningful energy and cost reductions are doing so by evaluating the entire ecosystems around their network operations – people, objectives, infrastructure and partners,” said Scott Armul, vice-president for global DC power and outside plant at Vertiv. “Because of the reliance on IT to enable 5G applications, a high degree of collaboration will be required across operators, OEMs and infrastructure providers, and customers to ensure deployments are optimised and every possible efficiency is pursued.”

The report also stressed that network efficiency improvements and best practices, although important, are only one piece of the energy puzzle that comes with 5G. It said those efforts must be paired with a more holistic, societal approach to curbing energy use and emissions that leverages 5G capabilities in ways far beyond the control of the telco operator.

“Operators are deploying 5G networks to grow new revenues,” said Phil Laidler, director at STL Partners. “This growth will come from new connectivity and applications enabling operators’ customers’ own transformation journeys. To be credible, informed partners for their customers, operators must lead by example. Energy strategy is a great place to start.”

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