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Paving the Way to Green Development through Innovation

Measuring carbon emissions against data traffic can open up smart paths to cutting emissions & boosting energy efficiency in telecom networks.

By Qin Fengyu & Zhang Zhiyong, Huawei
WinWin Issue 40

Network Carbon Intensity (NCI) index: Coordinating growth and emissions

Networks have been expanding rapidly over the past decade as the world becomes  increasingly digital. Carriers need to consider the impact of network scale on carbon emissions in terms of absolute carbon emissions, user requirements, and the rapid growth of data traffic.

Zero Carbon,Energy Digitalization

Figure 1: Global consumer data traffic

According to Informa Tech data (shown in Figure 1), global consumer data traffic on cellular and fixed broadband networks will grow by 29% annually from 2018 to 2024. That means that total data traffic will have increased from about 1.3 million PB in 2018 to 5.8 million PB in 2024 (equivalent to more than 6,700 photos  uploaded per person per day worldwide). The total traffic on cellular networks is expected to grow nearly fivefold over the same period.

Based on this, Informa Tech and Huawei proposed the Network Carbon Intensity (NCI) index.

Zero Carbon,Energy Digitalization

NCI indicates the ratio of total carbon emissions on the entire network against the total data volume over a certain period of time.

Given the huge variations in network facilities and the availability of sustainable energy, it’s erroneous to horizontally compare different types of network facilities and network facilities in different regions. NCI is a more accurate indicator of green networks because it measures carbon emissions per unit of data service based on a carrier's specific situation. The index can track specific carriers and thus help them manage their roadmaps for reducing the carbon emissions generated by the ICT industry.

Systematic three-layer solution: Green sites, green networks, and green operations

An industry report shows that carriers are most interested in two key emission reduction strategies: first, increasing the proportion of renewable energy used in their networks; and second, shifting focus from energy consumption to energy efficiency.

Increasing the proportion of renewable energy used: A major source of carbon emissions from carriers comes from electricity consumption. Switching from electricity generated by conventional energy sources to renewable energy, such as wind, solar, or tidal energy, can slash carbon emissions. Today, carriers care purchasing and using renewable energy to reduce their own emissions.

Conserving energy and reducing emissions: The ICT industry must focus not only on reducing energy consumption, but also on improving energy efficiency. Huawei provides carriers with comprehensive solutions that integrate green sites, green networks, and green operations to help them make structural improvements for optimal overall outcomes.

Green sites: Telecom sites account for the bulk of carriers' energy consumption. Huawei's green site solution is designed for typical scenarios such as wireless base stations, data centers, and CO equipment rooms. The solution reduces emissions and saves energy in a number of ways. These include equipment position (fully outdoors), equipment density (high-density and multi-band), equipment integration (integrated antennas), self-sufficient renewable energy, intelligent temperature control, and engineering planning. Simplified sites are designed to replace equipment rooms with outdoor cabinets and outdoor cabinets with poles. In an equipment room, only 60% of the power is used for the main communications equipment, with the remaining 40% used for heat dissipation. By replacing equipment rooms with cabinets, site energy efficiency can reach 90%. A zero-footprint outdoor pole site solution can realize 97% energy efficiency as well as eliminate rental costs.

Green networks: Huawei's green network solution provides an optimized network architecture that is all-optical, simplified, and intelligent, significantly increasing energy efficiency. Optical networks can provide very high data rates with lower power consumption, as optical fiber-based access networks consume much less power than conventional copper-based fixed access networks. By adopting optical equipment and negating the need for electrical signal conversion, carriers can significantly reduce the power consumed by their core networks. Moreover, all-optical equipment is smaller and requires less air conditioning than conventional photoelectric conversion solutions, further reducing power consumption. For example, China Telecom Sichuan deployed Huawei's optical cross-connect (OXC) solution, significantly reducing the power consumption of each node and saving about 250,000 kWh of power on core nodes a year.

Green operations: Huawei's green operations solution comprises network operations and user operations. In terms of network operations, the solution uses AI to intelligently adapt equipment operation to service needs. For example, when mobile traffic is low, the upper carrier frequency bands of base stations can be temporarily disabled to reduce unnecessary radio frequency and baseband power consumption. Intelligent network management can also dynamically adjust the network to satisfy fluctuating demands while minimizing energy consumption. This conserves energy without compromising network performance and user experience. In terms of user operations, the solution uses digital technologies to drive users to migrate to more efficient RATs, reducing energy consumption per bit. For example, it identifies 2G and 3G users and recommends that they migrate to 4G or 5G, based on parameters such as the device used, their network load, and their service package.

ICT will enable green development for industries

The white paper concludes that the ICT industry will contribute significantly to the green development of a wide range of industries, including agriculture, logistics, mining, transportation, and manufacturing. Data from the World Economic Forum shows that industries are expected to reduce their carbon emissions by 12.1 billion tons, which is 10 times as much as the ICT industry's own emissions. This empowering effect, referred to as "carbon handprint", will accelerate the application of  ICT in industries for far more efficient emissions reduction.

The ICT industry's green development is one of the keys to moving towards net-zero emissions, and the NCI index is the best indicator for evaluating comprehensive development. Based on the index and technological innovation, the green site, green network, and green operation solutions can boost carriers' green development and empower industries to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. 

Sustainability is a long journey, but we will keep moving toward a future that generates more bit with less watts.

Download the white paper: The Path to Net Zero for ICT Requirements Technology Innovation