Telecommunication companies have transformed the way we connect with people around the globe. But what does it take for telcos to deliver innovative solutions that will meet the ever-changing needs of customers? How far will operators go before the world feels the environmental reverberations of their tech developments? The ecological impact and costs of technological advancements made by the telco industry might be more sinister than we think.
Impact on environment
As the world emerges from the aftermath of COVID-19, the unprecedented demand for digital communications has compelled telco infrastructures into greater energy consumption. According to GSMA Intelligence, energy consumption accounted for 15 – 40 per cent of telcos operating expenditure in 2021. And with global data traffic expected to grow around 60 per cent per year, the industry’s share will grow further unless investments in energy efficiencies can offset the effect.
Telco operators are significant contributors to both carbon emissions and waste. The energy-hungry infrastructure adopted by telcos is required to cope with skyrocketing data traffic and the energy exigencies of broadband customers’ routers account for a majority of telcos’ carbon emissions.
Apart from carbon emissions, digital waste is also a primary cause of a telco’s sizeable environmental footprint. A United Nations University study shows that Asia generated 24.9 million tons of e-waste in 2019, or 5.6 kg per capita, of which only 11.7 per cent was documented to be collected and properly recycled. About 80 per cent of e-waste is discarded in landfills, burnt or illegally traded every year, according to Global E-waste Monitor.
Implementing sustainable practices into business decision-making
To limit the repercussions of their energy usage, telcos need to go above and beyond current capabilities to implement effective initiatives that will help them limit their environmental impact. Remote equipment monitoring and diagnostics enabled by telco services can help businesses maintain their hardware more efficiently while reducing emissions. By increasing the quality of these electronic devices, the amount of e-waste generated will also be reduced.
Incorporating digital carbon calculators into devices will help to measure, monitor and reduce power and carbon emissions across customers’ IT networks. These carbon calculators can scan the customer’s network inventory to estimate its carbon footprint and track its responses to changes and upgrades over time. It includes lifecycle management, highlighting devices at the end of service to prioritise replacement. Customers can also choose to use the calculator by uploading an inventory of their network equipment for analysis.
Digital twin technology can be used to test changes to a sample resources’ configuration, behaviour, and use in business processes in ways that are less destructive than their real-life physical equivalent. This concept can help to increase climate resilience, reduce emission intensity and improve efficiencies in IT networks. Such an optimisation enables enterprises to improve innovation and performance, particularly when it comes to monitoring and identifying ways to become more efficient, prevent downtimes and plan for future events.
Telcos need to educate other organisations on the consequences of inappropriate disposal of e-waste. Telcos can develop specialised programmes tailored to guide business customers towards repurposing old electronic equipment and recycling e-waste to leave minimal damage to the environment.
Telco operators should also consider pursuing opportunities to help other industries become more energy efficient. By offering solutions that can replace high-carbon physical products and activities with virtual low-carbon equivalents, telcos can collaborate with other businesses to help customers and partners curb emissions and save energy. Developing smart products and solutions can help other industries reduce their carbon emissions by an amount up to 10 times the telco industry’s own emissions. Telcos can research the potential for tech to enable a lower carbon economy and scale up solutions to encourage business customers to transition to net zero.
Sustainability at the forefront of the Telco agenda
Tech corporations are taking charge of a digitally transformed generation by streamlining workflow processes, improving efficiency levels and changing the way we build relationships with people.
While such developments herald an exciting digital era for the world, telcos and other high-energy consumption organisations must find ways to harness the benefits of technology without harming the environment. In launching company manifestos, telcos can track goals towards accelerating responsible, inclusive and sustainable growth.
Such a commitment towards energy efficient and low emission practices sets the stage for telcos to contribute towards a future that is more climate resilient. Telco operators need to build their business decisions around the sustainability narrative – not only to reduce their environmental ramifications but to enable their customers to better manage their ecological footprint as well.
Article written by Rodney Kinchington, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (AMEA)