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Why Telcos should prioritize efficiency and sustainability in 5G networks

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5G will be the most transformative communications technology in a generation and enable a universe of new services, including advanced energy management capabilities that will be critical to solving growing energy and sustainability challenges. But new research highlights the practical challenges of 5G energy management facing telecommunications operators.

Estimates suggest 5G networks can be up to 90% more efficient per traffic unit than their 4G predecessors, but they still require far more energy due to increased network density, heavy reliance on IT systems and infrastructure, and increased network use and accelerated traffic growth. The report from telecommunications consultancy STL Partners and Vertiv (NYSE: VRT) (http://bit.ly/2OT9gJl), a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions, concludes telecom operators 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 Partners estimates 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 energy efficiency should be the first or second priority for telecom operators when deploying 5G networks.

The report, Why Energy Management Is Critical To 5G Success, 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 paper identifies several best practices aimed at mitigating those increases and costs, organized across five categories:

Network technology: Deploying hardware and software designed and operated for efficiency.

Facilities infrastructure: Including new edge data centers to support cloud native IT
STL Partners estimates global 5G traffic will overtake 3G/4G as soon as 2025, making sustainability an urgent priority for operators
Infrastructure management: Deploying the appropriate hardware and software to measure, monitor, manage, improve and automate the network.

Organization and evaluation: Taking a holistic, full lifecycle view of costs and investments across the network

Working with others: 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 optimized and every possible efficiency is pursued.”

5G as a Tool for Sustainability

The report makes clear that network efficiency improvements and best practices, while important, are only one piece of the energy puzzle that comes with 5G. 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. This growth will come from new connectivity and applications enabling operators’ customers’ own transformation journeys,” said Phil Laidler, director at STL Partners. “To be credible, informed partners for their customers, operators must lead by example. Energy strategy is a great place to start.”

Opportunities for Progress

In terms of influencing customer behaviors 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. The manufacturing sector could achieve up to $730 billion worth of benefits by 2030 through the use of 5G to enable advanced predictive maintenance and automation. Transportation and logistics could get up to $280 billion in benefits by 2030 through advanced driver assistance, connected traffic infrastructure, and automated home deliveries. And, finally, the report suggests 5G could allow the healthcare sector to provide improved access to healthcare services for up to 1 billion patients by 2030 while simultaneously reducing emissions through higher asset utilization, reduced patient and clinician travel, and higher clinician productivity.

Influencing such behaviors is critical to operators’ efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of 5G, but there is work to do in order to build the partnerships needed. Just 37% of those surveyed said they see operators as credible partners in reducing carbon emissions today, but 56% said they believed telcos could be credible partners in the future.

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