Mobile telecom operators target greater energy efficiency

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A benchmarking tool has been developed for mobile operators to support the energy-efficient development of their networks.

The tool draws in its development on real-world data input from operators globally with the aim to provide a consistent evidence base for future network developments.

The initiative by the mobile operator association GSMA is based on the dual concerns of the commitments by operators towards net zero and the significant growth in data traffic anticipated with the expansion of LTE and 5G.

For the tool, the energy per unit of traffic, i.e. kWh/GB, was considered to be most easily comparable and meaningful, with normalisations for country-specific characteristics such as climate and population density.

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This is then assessed, drawing on operators’ direct energy consumption categorised into four groups, the radio access network that connects the end devices, the centralised core network where authentication and service access takes place, data centres where the IT and other infrastructure resides, and other operations including offices, shops, etc.

Findings from the benchmarking reveal that top performers can be found in different regions. Network efficiency does not directly correlate with how developed a market is and there is a difference of 10x between the worst and best performers.

More specifically for the group of participating operators, almost three-quarters of their energy consumption was in the radio access network, indicating the energy-intensive nature of this aspect. The rest was divided 13% in the core network, 9% in data centres and 5% in other operations.

In the markets covered, the primary energy efficiency ratio in the radio access network reached 0.24kWh/GB in 2020.

In terms of secondary ratios, these varied from one mobile connection requiring an average of 14.8kWh of energy during the 12 months, while one network site used 28,665kWh for the same period.

The benchmarking also revealed that 46% of total energy consumption was supplied by renewables, with European operators at the forefront due to easier accessibility, and 43% from the traditional grid. 11% was from diesel, primarily in developing regions where grid and renewables access is less prevalent.

Operators participating in the project were BT, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Globe, KPN, Smart and Vodafone with data from these groups spanning 31 networks in 28 countries.