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September 2021 in telecoms: it’s all about networks!

GSMA Intelligence takes on green transformation and the network sunset developments of operators

In recent years, the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) agenda has made its way to the top of the list of priorities for most organisations. Unsurprisingly, the question of “how” organisations can support efforts to tackle climate change sits at the centre of many of these ESG discussions and has driven the mobile industry to be one of the first to align itself with the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

In this edition of CURATED, we look at the latest energy efficiency efforts from operators and the progress they have made. We also look at how network sunsets are helping operators with their energy efficiency goals in addition to supporting newer technology launches.

Green transformation: The way forward

Did you know?

In February 2019, the GSMA board, on behalf of the entire industry, set an ambition for the mobile industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest (Read the details here). This ambition has been supported by the launch of science-based pathway and milestone targets, with step-by-step guidance for operators to align their carbon reduction targets to the pathway.

This spurred a clear commitment from the industry; as of April 2021, operators representing 65% of the mobile market (by revenues) have committed to science-based targets for carbon reductions and net zero emissions. This is also echoed in our operator survey results: more than 50% of operators surveyed identified sustainability/energy efficiency as extremely important and one of the top network transformation priorities. (Source: Network Transformation survey 2021)

Against this backdrop, operators are identifying and adopting numerous energy efficiency measures such as use of renewable energy sources, infrastructure level improvements like new lithium-ion batteries, AI enabled sleep and wake patterns of BTS to save energy, power efficient equipment, and modernising networks through retiring old and legacy networks.

These measures are paving the way for operators to achieve their energy efficiency targets in the net zero journey, and the reason why green telecom remains in the news on a daily basis:

So what?

The growing commitments of operators towards reducing their emissions not only have positive impact on the fight against climate change, but also on operators’ OPEX. For a telecom operator, maximum energy consumption happens at the network level, mainly the RAN (ranging from 70-90% of total energy consumption), which translates into a bigger slice of network costs allocated towards energy expenses (can be as high as 90%). The energy efficiency measures implemented by operators can therefore drive significant cost savings.

But what else does the industry need to do to achieve these targets?

Operators work with multitude of partners (infrastructure vendors, third-party data centres, and outsourced business operations) to deliver their products/services. It is therefore imperative for all the partners involved to work together, and not in silos, to align and achieve the industry wide targets of net zero emissions. An overarching framework, should bring all of the partners together and align their goals and targets.

At the same time, a list of universally agreed KPIs along with their definition and reporting criteria is important to measure progress and allow an apple to apple comparison for players; the absence of properly defined KPIs reporting criteria married with erroneous data availability of energy consumed at every point in the network makes things difficult and complex.

Done right, this will be a win-win for both the global economy and telecom industry!

Related readings:

2021: the year of network sunsets

Did you know?

Network Sunsets are also one of the measures used by operators in their energy efficiency initiatives, but also with wide-ranging impacts on device sourcing, roaming agreements, VoLTE rollout, and more

IT was only around 2015-16 when operators truly started warming up to the concept of network sunsets to support their LTE launch or expansion plans. Now, as 5G goes global, 2021 is the year when we will see the concept gaining full momentum. Compared with 43 networks shut-downs in the last six years, 35 networks will be shut down alone in 2021 (completed or planned).  In the five year period from 2021-2025, a total of 69 networks from 61 operators are expected to shut down. (Data as of September 15th ).

Below, we bring you the latest announcements from operators on their network sunset plans:

What spurred the growth in network sunsets and what is the one key thing that operators need to do right to make a network sunset a success?

The decommissioning of legacy networks offers a number of benefits to operators:

  • The spectrum can be refarmed (regulations permitting) for the launch and expansion of new technologies
  • It contributes to the energy efficiency goals of operators; the standards and infrastructure requirements for newer technologies allow for less energy consumption per bit of data, like with the NR standard of 5G
  • Legacy networks usually operate in low and mid frequency bands while more than 50% of 5G launches have been in the 3.5 – 3.7 GHz bands. Therefore, this makes legacy bands an ideal candidate to enhance the coverage and capacity of 4G and 5G networks
  • Where ageing 2G/3G networks eat up a significant portion of an operator’s opex, the new infrastructure innovations in 4G and 5G, such as Open RAN, RIC, and cloud based networks are touted to drive significant opex thereby presenting a good reason to sunset legacy networks

The above listed benefits seem to make the perfect case for network sunsets. But what often gets concealed behind these benefits is the challenges involved in the process. Phasing out a network generation completely is a complex process and usually takes years to complete. Transitioning of retail customers, for example, is still manageable by offering handset subsidies and continuation of existing tariffs, but transitioning enterprise / IoT customers can be a lengthy and difficult process given the reliance on low-cost 2G devices and networks.

To ensure no hiccups for customers (retail or enterprise), it is imperative that an operator undertakes a detailed risk assessment and fully plan for all implications, including new device demands, VoLTE support, etc. The entire transition process needs to be planned carefully while ensuring timely communication with affected customers and the provision of advice and customer support to ensure the smooth transition.

Related readings:

Finally, do you know that?

All of the above analysis is based on news curated by our team of analysts, and taken from our Industry Updates feed. Visit our feed today for more of the news shaping the mobile industry of tomorrow. It comes without interference!

By Radhika Gupta, Head of Data Acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

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