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While Nokia brings a digitalized approach to service delivery, the telecom vendor remains committed to reducing the carbon footprint of its network operations. In a Telecom Review exclusive with Aji Ed, CTO of Mobile Networks, Nokia MEA, he shares the importance of sustainability in their strategy and how the Nokia mobile networks portfolio improves energy efficiency.

For Nokia, sustainability means maximizing the positive while minimizing the possible negative impact of activities. What is the long-term sustainability strategy that Nokia plans to work on?

Sustainability is a key component of Nokia’s strategy and purpose. We believe digitalization and connectivity solutions are critical to resolving many of the global problems that society is facing today – environmental, social and economic. The solutions we provide can help the world decarbonize and dematerialize, reducing waste, limiting the use of natural resources, and driving the reuse of materials to combat climate change; can help restore failing productivity through the digitalization of industries and society, and can bring more inclusive access to social services and new opportunities.

This is what we mean when we say we create technology that helps the world act together. We realize we cannot do this alone, and we call for accelerated digitalization and enhanced connectivity, greater multi-party, multi-discipline collaboration and the establishment of sustainable platforms that encourage innovation.

We are aiming to use 100% renewable energy in our own operations by 2025. In 2021, we reached a 53% share, and our target for 2022 is 60%.

Our ambitious target is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. As the first large vendor in our business, we joined the Science Based Targets initiative with the aim of reducing our scope 1,2,3 emissions from the 2019 baseline by 50% by 2030. Scope 1 and 2 are those emissions that are owned or controlled by a company, whereas scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company but occur from sources not owned or controlled by it. Throughout the lifecycle of radio networks, 93% of CO2 emissions are borne when the networks are in use, and about 8% are created in manufacturing and transportation.

Mobile networks are crucial in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency. What are the building blocks used to improve energy efficiency using Nokia mobile networks portfolio?

Growing digitalization increases energy consumption of mobile networks, which can lead to higher CO2 emissions, also called the carbon footprint. The flip side of the coin is the carbon handprint - the reduction of the carbon footprint of other industries with digitalization. Mobile networks can actually help societies avoid 10 times more emissions than what they produce. In other words, the handprints of mobile networks are, according to GSMA, ten times bigger than their footprint. As a conclusion, we see that the role of mobile networks is of great importance when aiming for net zero.

Energy costs are often 15-30% of an operator’s total OPEX. Although 5G is 10 times more energy efficient than 4G, the exponential growth of mobile data increases the operator’s energy consumption. Energy costs have been surging in most markets since the beginning of 2022. Studies in recent Western European cases show that in a 5-year timeframe, electricity OPEX exceeds HW CAPEX.

The global challenge in the ICT industry is the fact that today, about 80% of the used electricity is converted to waste heat. Nokia mobile network products are designed for energy efficiency aiming to reduce power consumption by 15% in every new product generation. This is a good start, but we need to do more also.

To reduce waste heat, we have introduced cooling system innovations such as the liquid-cooled AirScale base station, which was commercially launched at Mobile World Congress 2022 in Barcelona. With liquid cooling, we can capture the waste heat into the liquid and transport it over distances for other use cases, such as circulating the waste heat for building heating. The technology is based on the fact that liquids can transfer 4000 times more heat than air. With our first commercial solution, we can capture about 80% of the waste heat.

At Nokia, we see the following building blocks as essential for reducing mobile network energy consumption and thereby achieving our ambitious sustainability goals.

  • RAN Site modernization: It is extremely important for mobile operators to start modernizing their networks with the latest equipment for higher energy efficiency. Based on our experience from different networks, for the same amount of kWh, 4G generates five times more payload compared to 3G, and 5G even much more. This is one of the factors that can drive modernization and frequency band refarming from legacy to new technologies like 4G and 5G. Our newer modules also reduce the site footprint with highly advanced dual-band and triple-band AirScale radios and the latest AirScale baseband systems. This will help reduce energy consumption by up to 50% depending on the site configurations.
  • Energy Efficiency features: These include features such as micro DTX (or discontinuous transmission) which allows the base station to identify periods of unused RF resources and switch off the power amplifier for a short duration. We also have a feature to switch off unused capacity layers in the network during periods of low usage, such as midnight or late evenings, for sites covering business districts. The MIMO muting feature enables a good balance between network performance and energy efficiency by switching off MIMO layers (transmitters). There are other advanced features like deep sleep mode which will bring further significant gains in energy consumption.
  • Automation for energy efficiency: Automation is equally critical for taking energy efficiency gains to the next level. Nokia’s industry-leading EdenNet SON (rated 1st for the past 5 years by industry analysts) allows our customers to address a couple of areas, such as optimizing energy-saving features with machine learning to further reduce radio network energy consumption as well as automating energy-saving features to eliminate human error and maximize the gains.
  • Network design and optimization for energy efficiency: A well-optimized network will always be efficient in terms of power consumption. We always see that a network with bad coverage and quality consumes more power compared to an optimized one. An optimized network will also help users retain their mobile batteries for longer. Our intelligent approach to  the RF design of networks focuses the site transmission (RF signal transmission) towards the subscribers (avoiding areas not needing to be covered) while balancing the network performance. This will help reduce energy consumption by up to 15%.

Why is it important for a telecom company to have sustainability at the core of its operations?

Telecommunication is now ubiquitous, and the need to stay connected has become a priority. Wireless communication and radio sites form a sizeable percentage of a telecommunication company’s energy needs.

While Nokia is digitalizing its own operations, we are also bringing a digitalized approach to our service delivery. This further reduces the carbon footprint of network operations. Our digital services include:

  1. The Digital Deploy platform, which allows managing project collaboration, data flow and task flow digitally. The real-time information sharing means improved operational agility, efficiency and accurate decision-making. Experts no longer need to travel to sites, which means that they can address multiple sites faster, saving time and reducing CO2 emissions. This translates into a 30% faster site deployment time.
  2. Integrating SON with closed-loop automation significantly reduces a lot of operational activities on the field on a real-time basis. In addition to reducing the need for extensive and expensive testing using drive testing and hazardous rigging activity at sites, it also further provides a “greener” approach to crucial optimization activities, further reducing CO2 emissions.
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