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For telcos, reaching net zero means mastering energy efficiency

Vincent de Montalivet
18 Feb 2022

Find out how telcos are leveraging technology to reach their net-zero targets.

Pulled in two directions

Over the next five years, energy efficiency will become a core focus in the telco industry, as two sets of forces pull in opposite directions. First, energy needs will rise. A phenomenal rise of data and energy-hungry tech will continue to drive energy usage, which already constitutes 20 – 40% of telco OPEX. Second, industries around the world are beginning to respond in earnest to calls for more sustainable practices, which are coming not just from governments and the public, but increasingly from enterprise clients. It’s no wonder that upwards of one-third of operators have committed to net-zero goals. Telcos that fail in this challenge will soon find themselves operating with higher costs, degraded reputations and fewer clients. But the opportunity for those who successfully increase their energy efficiency will be profound. With enviable cost savings and well-earned ESG status, these telcos will operate with a powerful competitive advantage.

Exponentially increasing data needs

Data has been on the rise for years, and will continue accelerating exponentially in the near future. Technologies such as holograms, video-led digital experiences and new, digitally-generated realities such as the metaverse will require data on a scale that dwarfs anything we’ve seen. Even basic services will become increasingly data-heavy. Worldwide, data usage of average mobile subscribers is expected to increase from the current average of 11.4GB/month up to 34 GB/month by 2025 and 53 GB/month by 2027. Although 5G is proportionally more energy efficient than 4G, that difference will be swamped by the amount of data surging through networks. Additionally, 5G sites require more energy than their 4G equivalents, and 5G depends upon large numbers of closely-linked data stations. Today telcos are consuming between 2 and 3% of the world’s energy. Consumption will rise over the coming years; there’s little doubt of that. Telcos would be wise to put their energy efficiency strategy into action before this rise in data and energy becomes unmanageable.

And many are doing just that. A recent GSMA survey of mobile operators found that 92% rated energy efficiency and sustainability as very or extremely important. But how to make that change is another matter. New science-based target initiatives (SBTi) standards limit offsetting carbon to just 5%. To move beyond that requires the analysis of large amounts of data to identify critical network weaknesses, but for most operators it is precisely these capabilities that are incomplete. In fact, many active and passive network equipment elements are not currently set up to measure energy consumption, let alone optimize it.

Where to start

The number one place to look for improvements is in the networks. Network energy usage swallows up  a huge amount of a mobile operators’ OPEX, and 70-90 % of that energy is consumed by RAN. These massive networks were built to maximize connectivity, not to minimize energy usage. And that means plenty of opportunity to go back in and make improvements. 

From our white paper, 5G Network Energy Efficiency

Some telcos have begun to find ways to cut the emissions from their networks. Our team recently worked together with one industry leader on a project to increase spectral efficiency. This project has demonstrated that through AI based RAN optimization, there is strong potential to  reduce the number of sites and lower emissions. Other telco players have found  success implementing remote sites driven by self-sufficient renewable energy sources – solar, wind and hydrogen. Vodafone, for example, has been launching eco towers across the UK, and Telia has launched a self-sufficient tower in the scenic Trollstigen region to address the coverage need in the remote but trafficked area. 

The transition from 4G to 5G also provides an interesting opportunity to optimize for energy saving. Many operators are in the midst of sunsetting their 2G and 3G networks, which is beneficial from an energy efficiency perspective, especially when equipment can be reused or recycled. A few additional steps operators might take include:

  • Modernizing the network across all network nodes (especially transport, data-center and RAN) 
  • Implementing energy measurement and saving features, such as AI powered MIMO sleep mode,  and in turn also improve network performance 
  • Selecting virtualization-based architecture across network architecture and virtualized-RAN architecture 
  • Utilizing the AI/ML concepts and O-RAN based architecture to improve network efficiency 

Nokia and Telefónica have made great strides in the last category, and are working together to build green 5G networks, as well as developing smart energy network infrastructure and AI / ML technologies to improve sustainability and performance. Despite traffic tripling since 2015, Telefonica su

cceeded in reducing their energy consumption last year by 1%. Ericsson has also had successful trials on the application of reinforcement learning (a type of machine learning) to remote electrical tilt of antennas, resulting in a 20% decrease in downlink (DL) transmission power, without affecting performance. And the trend is spreading. Research finds that fully half of CSPs expect to save 10 – 20% in energy costs in the coming years – that’s 50% of CSPs that will be operating with significantly lower costs, and with a powerful sales advantage. 

The triple bottom line

Tackling inefficiency in networks is a crucial step, and many telcos already have a strategy in place. Where they face difficulty is primarily in tracking and measuring their progress along their net zero roadmaps. In addition to reducing their own carbon footprints, CSPs need to develop greener services and products in order to reduce their scope-3 emissions. These scope-3 emissions are looming large on the horizon – accounting for around 75% of the carbon footprint of a typical telco, according to some estimates. They will require impressive data capabilities and new levels of industry collaboration. Let’s not fool ourselves. Reaching net zero will not be an easy task, for mobile operators, or other companies, governments or private individuals. Lasting change depends on a mindset change in all layers of the organization. The benefits are a triple bottom line  – bringing value to telecom operators, customers and our shared environment.

The fact is, what you can’t measure, you can’t manage. That’s where Capgemini’s capabilities are playing a crucial role in CSPs’ journey to net zero. To learn more about the ways we can help you leverage your data and equipment to reduce emissions, contact us below. With the power of intelligent platforms, the future of telecommunications will be efficient, sustainable and bright.

#TelcoInsights is a series of posts about the latest trends and opportunities in the telecommunications industry – powered by a community of global industry experts and thought leaders.


Ane-Marte Weng, Senior Director at Capgemini Invent: Ane-Marte Weng leads the drive to build sustainability solutions as a strategic capability for our global telecom sector. With over 15 years of experience in the telecom sector, she is passionate about how we as individuals and organizations can create long-term, tangible and sustainable value.

Shamik Mishra, CTO of connectivity at Capgemini Engineering: Shamik Mishra has nearly twenty-one years of experience in the telecom and software industry, providing engineering R&D services, frameworks and solutions to telecom operators, network equipment providers and software firms around the world.

Vincent De Montalivet, Global Offer Leader in Data for Net Zero: Vincent has been working in sustainable ICT for more than ten years, managing IT projects for local authorities and NGOs. With a dual engineering / marketing background at the crossroads of digital transformation and sustainability, he firmly believes in the potential of digital technology and AI to be a part of the solution to fight climate change.