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MNO Energy Costs Are Surging. What’s the Plan to Reach Net-Zero?


With IT and telecom’s CO2 footprint estimated at over 4% of global emissions and energy consumption surging, concerns about sustainability are at the forefront. To reduce costs and carbon dioxide emissions, forward-thinking mobile network operators are committed to net-zero sustainability. To achieve this, new solutions are required. Advanced testing, powered by automation, is part of that effort.

Concerns about inflation and the increasingly skyrocketing cost of energy are in the spotlight across industries. In telecom, the environmental impacts of power-hungry 5G network deployments amid a global energy crisis has emerged as a central concern for service providers and ecosystem stakeholders.

The numbers swirling around these issues are staggering:

  • Ericsson estimates the global energy cost of running mobile networks will exceed $25bn annually.

  • GSMA notes energy consumption typically accounts for 15–40% of telcos’ network Opex.

  • Energy costs telcos between 1-2% of revenue and 3-4% of cost of goods sold (COGS).

Economics are just part of the equation. Surging energy consumption also puts a magnifying glass on sustainability concerns. More than 90% of a telecom operator’s carbon footprint for operations comes from the electricity used to power networks, with over 70% of consumption stemming from the RAN and over 25% from a combination of the core, data centers, and labs.

It’s no surprise that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry’s CO2 footprint is estimated to be 2-4%, or more, of total global emissions.

Telecom operators’ carbon footprint

To reduce costs and carbon dioxide emissions over the long term, forward-thinking service providers have committed to net-zero sustainability.

Emerging paths to net-zero emissions

Service providers set a target to reduce operational network emissions (GHG Scope 1 and 2 emissions) 45% by 2030, reach net-zero by 2050, and reduce value chain emissions (Scope 3) from indirectly controlled sources.

They’re advancing these efforts through several key initiatives:

  • Increasing energy efficiency via AI and automation, swapping in energy-efficient equipment components, and reducing energy consumption by powering down idle or passive equipment

  • Increasing the share of renewable energy

  • Enhancing the metering and measurement of Scope 1 and 2 emissions to provide greater accuracy, accountability, and transparency

  • Influencing and tracking suppliers and supply chains (Scope 3) to reduce emissions and provide energy-efficient solutions

  • Supporting sustainable innovation and contributing to broader decarbonization solutions by enabling efforts across society

Service provider sustainability contributions have the potential to affect up to 15% of global CO2 emissions within other industries. This could equate to a 12.1m gigaton decrease in CO2 — a whopping $6.5tn reduction.

Accelerating service provider journeys to net-zero emissions

Spirent is helping customers improve energy and carbon performance.

Delivering energy efficiency isn’t a single magic bullet, but a holistic set of actions that result in a greater cumulative outcome. We’re attacking emissions on several fronts.

1. Network lifecycle automation to reduce operational emissions:

  • Automating and consolidating energy-intensive labs and lifecycle processes (Lab to Live, DevOps) have demonstrated up to 40% energy savings.

  • Automating and accelerating service turn-ups by 10X to reduce energy-intensive physical and on-site activities.

  • Automating service assurance and network performance monitoring activities to reduce energy-intensive triage and maintenance tasks, such as bulk data collection and transfer, site visits, and truck rolls.

2. Accelerating the use of newer energy-efficient technology:

  • Testing and accelerating the adoption of energy-efficient 5G New Radio (NR) equipment to utilize greater spectral efficiency and enhanced deep sleep modes. 5G NR has demonstrated the potential to consume 25% less power compared to 4G solutions.

  • Validating the use of public cloud and edge infrastructure for hosting the 5G core to benefit from shared (multi-tenant) and better-managed resources, advanced cooling techniques, optimized data storage, and the ability to match workloads with renewable energy availability. Cloud computing has the potential of improving energy efficiency by 93% and producing 98% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than on-premises IT infrastructure.

  • Testing and accelerating the adoption of power-efficient next-gen high-speed Ethernet (800GE) in transport networks and data centers. Using faster 800GE is more energy-efficient than transporting an equivalent volume of traffic using multiple 400GE or 100GE links. 800GE optics consume between 20-40% less energy per gigabit of traffic.

3. Supporting sustainable innovation:

  • Accelerating 5G-enabled industry innovation around CO2 reduction in high-emitting industries, such as automotive, manufacturing, energy production, and transportation. Spirent’s digital twin solutions speed innovation by accurately emulating complex real-world network environments in controlled and repeatable conditions.

  • Automating energy-intensive private network operational processes, so enterprises and industries can easily and rapidly adopt 5G technology enabling broader decarbonization solutions and outcomes. Learn more in our white paper with Telefónica.

The mobile industry opportunity

The innovation and complexity of 5G’s new network architecture presents opportunities to achieve significant and measurable progress on sustainability. 5G’s increased complexity, multi-vendor and disaggregated approach, and focus on real-time processes for development, deployment, and operation, require automation for reliable and comprehensive success. Manual processes for testing and live network operations are no longer feasible.

Service providers are implementing massive automation of lab-to-live network assurance and test solutions. Telefónica, for example, achieved 3X faster test and assurance, as well as enhanced flexibility, through automation.

This focus on automation and more energy-efficient solutions provides a timely opportunity for service providers to accelerate progress in a quest for net-zero and sustainability.

Learn more about Spirent’s sustainability efforts and check out our Lab Power Conservation Solution, which includes a case study with compelling results.

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Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas

Head of Market Strategy

Spirent is a global leader in automated test and assurance for the ICT industry and Stephen heads Spirents market strategy organization developing Spirents strategy, helping to define market positioning, future growth opportunities, and new innovative solutions. Stephen also leads Spirent’s strategic initiatives for 5G and future networks and represents Spirent on a number of Industry and Government advisory boards. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with service providers, network equipment manufacturers and start-ups, helping them drive innovation and transformation.