Against the backdrop of the recent energy crisis, there is a new sense of urgency around energy consumption and sustainability. Enterprises are doubling down on their green targets, in many cases accelerating plans for an ambitious endgame – net-zero emissions. As we have covered extensively in previous reports, the telecommunications industry is not an exception to this. In this report we explore how telcos can drive sustainability in their metro networks.
Telecoms operators face a particular challenge in that they have experienced and anticipate future high levels of growth in traffic (20% to 40% per annum). Furthermore, consumption patterns are changing with even higher levels of traffic growth originating and terminating within the metro network. The metro network (sometimes referred to as access and aggregation) is the section of communications service providers’ (CSPs) network between the last-mile access and the core backbone. STL Partners estimates that metro network traffic will increase threefold to 2030. This is driven by:
- growth in demand for increasingly immersive user services
- proliferation in high-bandwidth connections to machines, vehicles and sensors
- the deployment of multi-edge compute (MEC) infrastructure and applications
- the need to support next-generation services to support the above.
In light of CSPs’ net-zero commitments, the significant growth in traffic across the metro network makes it imperative to drive down energy use and associated emissions (including embedded greenhouse gas emissions) to make the metro network sustainable. The challenges faced in the metro network are not dissimilar from those faced by cloud providers – massive growth in scale coupled with ambitious sustainability commitments. While cloud providers have already been addressing these challenges, operators have typically been further behind. Our research, therefore, sought to address the question:
How should operators better incorporate energy and sustainability goals into their metro networks: applying cloud principles and lessons from leading operators?
To understand telcos’ sustainability efforts, we conducted an interview programme with key decision-makers at Tier-1 and Tier-2 operators across North America and Europe. We focused our conversations on telco networks and how they are designed, built and maintained to address both near and long-term sustainability challenges, with a special interest in operators’ metro networks.
In the interviews, we asked operators about their strategies to reduce Scope 1 to 3 emissions, which are defined as:
- Scope 1 emissions: Direct emissions from day-to-day operations, e.g. fuel combustion, coolant leakages
- Scope 2 emissions:Indirect emissions from electricity suppliers, e.g. to power metro networks and facilities-supporting infrastructure (heating, aircon, uninterruptible power supply, etc.)
- Scope 3emissions: Indirect (non-energy) emissions e.g., embedded carbon from suppliers of equipment and services (e.g., civil works, equipment in metro locations, trucks).
Enter your details below to download an extract of the report
Classification of greenhouse gas emissions reporting
The interviews confirmed our initial hypothesis: sustainability is a growing concern for operators and there is significant work to do:
- All operators in our interview programme confirmed that they are on a path towards decarbonisation, but where they are on their journeys varies significantly from operator to operator and from region to region.
- European operators tend to have more established approaches to sustainability and are particularly focused on energy use given the current energy crisis affecting the region:
- Going green is both a cost imperative as well as ‘the right thing to do’ for European operators, in addition to the stringent regulatory environment in which they operate.
- On the one hand, this is a positive change as it has raised the profile of energy efficiency which is now increasingly seen as an executive-level agenda item.
- However, there is also a hidden impact: telcos are pushing hard on energy and Scope 2 But at the same time, this has deferred the operators’ efforts to reduce their embedded (Scope 3) emissions which is the biggest contributor to their overall carbon footprint (Scope 3 accounts for 80% to 95% of most operators’ total emissions).
- The North American operators were less focused on the cost of energy, and therefore in reducing it through greater efficiencies, but nonetheless were aware of the need to meet the ambitious net-zerotargets that they have set.
In this report, we will discuss our learnings from closely watching the industry and speaking to the leaders driving operators’ efforts. The four main sections of this report discuss what we are referring to as common practice, best practice, and next practice strategies and actions that operators are pursuing to meet their sustainability goals, with a particular emphasis on their activities within the metro network. For operators to meet their targets, they will need to go beyond the low-hanging fruit of common practice and focus on the additional initiatives they will need to start adopting. Operators already undertaking best practice initiatives should focus on next practice. Less mature operators should take lessons from those further ahead in their net-zero strategies and aim to cover the best practice initiatives of their peers. All operators can also borrow concepts from other industries, notably cloud providers. Ultimately, without taking on the tougher challenges in their access and metro networks, operators will miss their net-zero goals.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- Common practice: Where are metro network operators focusing their sustainability efforts?
- Best practice: Applying cloud principles to metro networks
- Next practice: What future measures need to be incorporated into current thinking?
- Recommendations for operators: Identifying the right tools and methodologies