Stephanie Huf, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer, Enea

In recent years, delivering carbon-free communication has been a key challenge for telecom companies. This is a cause for concern, particularly as telecom alone accounts for around 2 per cent of global energy demand – a figure that is only likely to increase as the world becomes more connected. Reports suggest that 5G is greener than 4G, and that is certainly true when we look at pure energy consumption. But 5G opens the door to much more bandwidth, which, in turn, drives the adoption of hungry applications that are responsible for causing the problem in the first place.

The deployment of dense 5G networks while previous networks remain in operation is adding to the demand, prom­pting operators to consider their impact on the environment carefully. The business case for creating a sustainable path to 5G and beyond is stronger than ever. Co­nsumers are also now hyper-aware of their own impact on the climate, to the point where subscribers may factor in an operator’s green credentials when choosing th­eir services. In the telecom sector, almost half (46 per cent) of consumers say that environmental sustainability is either im­portant or essential when it comes to their choice of service provider.

So, what are communication service providers doing to make themselves more environmentally friendly, and what is the driving force behind going green? Efforts to source renewable energy are mitigating environmental impact, and there is a broad agreement that systemic change is needed – an overhaul of infrastructure and how the telecom industry uses energy. While long-term infrastructure changes should be pursued, there are immediate actions that mobile operators can take to drastically reduce their network-wide energy usage. It all comes down to data. The more data traffic a network has to carry, the greater the energy load.

Traffic volumes with high resolution videos are growing exponentially with 5G. Today, roughly 70 per cent of data traffic on mobile networks is video traffic. Video consumption has skyrocketed in recent years, with everything from Netflix and You­Tube to Facebook and TikTok spurr­ing demand for data-hungry video streams. Yet, despite the soaring increase in video delivery across networks, little is being done to optimise the flow of data to make it more efficient and less resource hungry.

Underutilised bytes means wasted energy

The majority of video output from content providers is delivered at the highest available quality, according to the available bandwidth. And so, pushing ultra-high-re­solution videos to small-screen smartphones is a waste of bytes. The wasted by­tes equate to wasted energy, and the perceivable difference to an end-user, between receiving a high definition stre­am or one at a slightly lower resolution, is negligible on small-screen devices. The vol­ume of wasted bytes is only likely to inc­rease, as 5G continues its roll-out and video streams default to higher resolutions.

Traffic management helps reduce energy con­sumption

Traffic management solutions allow operators to distinguish between different ty­pes of content, and optimise video streams independent of the content provider delivering them. This means video content can be “capped” at a certain resolution, so users are not streaming ultra-high-definition YouTube videos on their 5 inch sc­reens unnecessarily – saving them data, while lowering the energy burden of the network. Further, research from the Mobile Video Industry Council found that 71 per cent of consumers actually reported having a higher quality video experience when video was optimised for their devices. If users prefer to override this function and stream in high resolution, they still have the option to do so – for example, if they are casting their mobile to a larger screen. A recent report revealed that optimised video with traffic management solutions has the potential to reduce network-wide energy consumption by more than 10 per cent, saving millions in energy costs for operators worldwide.

Green telecom

The real potential for change, however, appears to lie in setting emission reduction targets. Most leading communications service providers have already pledged to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy sources in the next few years, as well as rolling out more energy efficient technologies and practising carbon offsetting.