Renewable energy and recycling, the big bets
For Steven Moore, leader of GSMA Climate Action, the challenge for telecommunications companies lies in creating a global strategy for the entire company and creating interdepartmental working groups to execute it, as well as including accountability for public objectives from the top of the organization, develop a strategy.
Moree detailed in an email sent to Expansion that among the programs that he has seen that operators apply internationally to reduce their environmental footprint are reducing the complexity of their network sites, minimizing cable loss, reusing network equipment so as not to manufacture new equipment, and thus guarantee that unwanted ones are safely disposed of and recycled, or sent back to the equipment manufacturer for recycling. There is also the conversion of vehicle fleets to electric and involving suppliers and customers to help reduce emissions.
AT&T, which aims to be an international carbon neutral firm by 2035, has begun transitioning its operations to green energy. In Mexico, the company chaired by Mónica Aspe revealed that 555 cell sites with 3G and 4G technologies already operate with renewable energy and its goal is to transit to 1,200 sites. This is not minor if one considers that 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, in addition to implying higher maintenance costs, consume more energy which generates more pollution.
“The goal of being a carbon-neutral company by 2035 still seems distant, but it is not, which is why we have started the energy transition. For example, in the United States they are already shutting down the 3G network and as the network evolves (which is now in the fifth generation), new solutions will surely be found for the climate issue”, points out Araico.
One of the big bets of the operators at a global level is the energy efficiency of the networks, although in many countries it is difficult, or impossible, to buy renewable electricity due to the lack of a local market.
“In Mexico, for example, the current government has put a bit of a brake on the issue of green energy, but we believe that this will change over time,” says the AT&T Mexico board of directors.
This challenge is added to the large investments required by the energy transition, however, Araico assures that the capital injections will be offset when they begin to reduce the use of energy in their operations, which translates into lower costs.
Another bet is recycling. Telefónica México previously explained to Expansion that during its spectrum return and network dismantling process, it managed to dismantle more than 127,000 elements, of which 48% were recycled, 38% were sold and 14% are still available in a warehouse for later sale or recycling. This has allowed Telefónica México to reduce its carbon footprint as of April last year by saving more than 32 million kWh.
Some telecommunications companies have also issued green bonds that allow them to be more attractive to raise capital.
América Móvil raised 24,000 million pesos last December through an issuance of bonds with a sustainable label on the Mexican Stock Exchange (BMV), being the largest placement in the history of bonds labeled on the Mexican stock market.
The company explained that the resources will be used to finance projects with environmental benefits, through green and social programs, such as investments in infrastructure equipment that generates renewable energy, modernization of equipment and network technology, and investments aimed at accelerating the deployment of the mobile network in areas at risk of digital exclusion, among others.
5G is faster and greener?
Companies like AT&T assure that, unlike the first generations of the networks, 5G will be developed with “a logic of energy efficiency”, in addition to the fact that it promises to be a technology that will help this objective of reducing the carbon footprint.
For Moore, the energy efficiency of 5G will not be immediately noticeable, because there is still little traffic in the fifth generation networks, added to the fact that the development of the new technology worldwide is based on a hybrid of networks where some operators use ‘non standalone’, that is, they rely on 4G technology. And Mexico is one of the nations that develops the fifth generation in networks with this type of model. América Móvil, for example, uses the 3450-3550 MHz spectrum frequencies that it already had tendered and in operation to provide 5G services.
“When a whole new 5G layer is introduced, initially only a small number of connections use that layer. As 5G penetration increases,
and the number of connections reaches critical mass, the superior energy efficiency of 5G becomes palpable,” says Moore.