Accelerating sustainability through network automation

How is network automation helping operators meet their sustainability targets? This article summarises the key findings from a recently published report and takeaways from a recent webinar featuring Balaji Subramaniam, Director of Product Line Management at Blue Planet, and panellists from CityFibre and Orange.  

Key takeaways

One of the major findings of our recent research programme was that most operators still treat automation and sustainability as separate endeavours and view any sustainability benefits merely as a positive by-product. However, to meet their ambitious sustainability goals and respond effectively to external pressures, operators must proactively integrate sustainability considerations into their automation strategies, to truly leverage the benefits.

Second, where operators are integrating automation into their sustainability initiatives, this tends to be organised around five key use cases or applications – ranging from AI/ML-enabled power saving, to dynamic inventory management and resource convergence.

Five automation applications that deliver emission reductions

Source: STL Partners

After these five automation use cases were described, the webinar panellists shared several real-world application examples:

  • Balaji described how Dynamic Inventory Management enabled one North American operator to identify more than 13,000 line cards that were drawing power but carrying no customer traffic, which could be re-deployed or decommissioned reducing both Scope 2 and 3 emissions.
  • Pierre-Yves Le Lann, Innovation Manager, Head of Connectivity & Infrastructures Business at Orange explained how they are targeting emissions reductions of their network during low traffic periods specifically through Resource Sharing which required a high degree of automated orchestration.
  • Clayton Nash, Strategy Director and Head of Sustainability at CityFibre described how they have adopted a high degree of automation and optimised its operations to a point where it was able to dispatch a field engineer to repair a fibre before the end customer had even realised that he had put a spade through it.

We then ran an audience poll asking which automation application they believed had the most potential sustainability benefits. As shown in the results below, AL/ML-enabled power savings and Dynamic Inventory Management were the most selected, and the panellists agreed that these use cases offer the most potential for energy savings.

Source: STL Partners webinar poll ‘Accelerating sustainability through network automation’, April 2024 

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Deep dive into network automation and sustainability

During the webinar, Balaji also fielded several questions and shared his views on the role automation plays to help operators meet their sustainability targets.

1. STL: Can you provide examples of operators who have achieved quantifiable sustainability benefits from automation? What were the outcomes?

Balaji: One example we implement using our Blue Planet intelligent automation software is “inventory network synchronisation,”. As described earlier, the goal is to identify “stranded” resources — equipment like line cards that are not actively supporting traffic — and optimise their use by either re-allocating or upgrading them. Moreover, network auto-discovery is continuous, meaning that operator always have an accurate and current view of their network resources. This dynamic inventory can help operators reallocate or recycle unused equipment, manage the automated powering down of devices as described in the AL/ML-enabled power savings use case, and also leads to significant operational efficiencies.  The result: reduction in Scope 2 (power-related emissions) and Scope 3 (embedded supply-chain emissions).

2. STL: Operators often cited the access network as a target for automation initiatives with sustainability outcomes; these typically focus on optimisation and sleep modes. Do you have other examples of how automation in the access network can yield sustainability gains, particularly regarding Scope 3 emissions?

Balaji:  We are also seeing the potential for big energy savings in the access network, and particularly in the 5G RAN, as networks and services move close to the edge. Beyond monitoring sleep modes, network automation, and particularly dynamic inventory which I mentioned earlier, can produce energy efficiencies and reduced environmental impact supporting broader Scope 3 emission reduction goals. With accurate, near real-time inventory visibility, the 5G planning process can be greatly simplified. This ensures the proper placement of physical and virtual RAN resources, including the modelling of capacity inside more energy efficient data centres, and the automated activation of virtual resources to reduce truck rolls.

3. STL: You work with operators globally and have insights from various regions. Can you share any observations about differences in automation approaches and their sustainability journeys by region?

Balaji: Different regions show unique trends in integrating sustainability with automation. In North America, we’ve seen a significant push towards OSS (Operational Support System) consolidation, aiming to streamline inventory management into a unified view, which can enhance efficiency and reduce redundancies. European operators often tie automation closely with assurance, implementing closed-loop systems that enhance both operational and environmental efficiency. In Asia, there’s a notable openness to innovative approaches, with a willingness to experiment with new technologies that might offer sustainability benefits. Interestingly, recent RFPs (Requests for Proposals) across these regions now frequently include sustainability criteria, indicating a growing emphasis on integrating these considerations into core operational strategies. This shift suggests a promising trend towards global prioritisation of sustainability in telecom operations.

To learn more, click here to watch the webinar recording and download the presentation slides

Or download the full research report, “Advancing sustainability through network automation

Miriam Sabapathy

Author

Miriam Sabapathy

Consultant

Miriam is a consultant at STL Partners working across a range of projects focusing on private networks, the impact of 5G across industry verticals and B2B growth strategies. Alongside this, she works within our private networks practice. Miriam holds a BA in Classics & Philosophy from Durham University.

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