ABI Research has provided a comprehensive framework for highlighting sustainability challenges and initiatives across the telecommunications industry. What did they find?
Submitted by Ericsson
Kim Arrington Johnson, Principal Analyst
Bhushan Joshi, Head of Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility for Ericsson in Market Area North America
ABI Research has provided a comprehensive framework for highlighting sustainability challenges and initiatives across the telecommunications industry. According to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), roughly two-thirds of the overall carbon footprint for a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) comes from Scope 3 emissions (e.g., purchases of upstream goods and services and downstream energy use of mobile devices), while one-third of operator emission totals are comprised of a company’s own emissions, mostly from the electricity used to power their networks. Understanding these major sources for telco carbon emissions, ABI Research identified key action items for a telco operator to take for reducing its carbon emissions and overall environmental impact:
In a follow-on study, Sustainability Assessment: Telco Technology Suppliers, ABI Research looked further into the telco supply chain—evaluating more than 80 global vendors providing network infrastructure and equipment for sustainable impact and implementation. Impact is defined as the innovation and advanced features of the technologies for reducing carbon emissions or waste, while implementation reflects the ability to scale impact (quantified by market share, regional rollout, number of partnerships, number of licenses, etc.) The sustainability assessment scored each vendor on a comprehensive list of criteria, providing a matrixed view of the ecosystem of companies that can best support a telco in their drive toward improved sustainability.
In the first phase of evaluation, suppliers and vendors were assessed within nine equipment categories, including massive MIMO, 5G RAN, 5G Open-RAN, on-site renewable energy, free cooling, liquid cooling, AI-driven software, antenna solutions, and 5G cloud-native platforms. The scores for each category were then rolled up into an overall assessment of telecom sector providers, grouped by similar companies, including Traditional Vendors, Non-Traditional Vendors, Chipset and Component Vendors, and Software Vendors. The companies with the greatest ability to move the needle for reducing carbon emissions and waste across the entire telecommunications supply chain received the highest scores in the sustainability assessment.
In the ABI Research Sustainability Assessment, Ericsson was recognized as the “Most Sustainable Telco Vendor” out of more than 80 vendors for both impact and implementation.
Ericsson finished in first place overall and first place for impact and implementation out of more than 80 companies assessed. Ericsson achieved the designation of “Most Sustainable Telco Vendor,” due to scoring highly in Net Zero climate targets, product energy management, network energy performance, sustainable manufacturing, and ability to scale impact.
Net Zero Climate Targets
As part of the scoring process, ABI Research assessed each vendor for its overall sustainability strategy and Net Zero climate commitments. The technology providers in the study ranged from having no published climate mitigation or carbon reduction goals to companies, such as Ericsson, with verified science-based targets for Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions. By 2040, Ericsson aims to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its value chain. The company has also committed to reduce emissions in the supply chain and portfolio by 50% and to being Net Zero in its own operations by 2030.
Ericsson also received high scores for what ABI Research considers “next level” Net Zero ambition, or when a company uses its sector-wide influence to request or encourage others in the supply chain to reduce their carbon emissions. With that, Ericsson has set a supplier climate target requesting that 350 strategic suppliers publicly set their own 1.5°C aligned climate targets, halving their carbon emissions by 2030.
Product Energy Management
Studies estimate that up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined during the design phase, and to verify the company’s critical focus on Product Energy Management and optimal design (maximizing 5G performance while minimizing energy use), ABI Research met directly with Ericsson’s Head of Sustainability and Head of Energy Performance, in addition to other product representatives. In comparing vendors for the sustainability assessment, Ericsson came in first place for impact, leading the massive MIMO and 5G RAN (radio access network) categories for optimizing equipment weight, size, and energy consumption while also securing first place in massive MIMO, 5G RAN, Antenna Solutions, and AI-driven software for implementation (e.g., number of live 5G networks, global market share, etc.) To support the ranking, Ericsson’s massive MIMO technologies have up to 50% improved energy efficiency compared to earlier generation equipment, while its basebands are 30% to 60% more efficient than competition at the same capacity.
After consolidating energy reduction data from multiple vendors, ABI Research attributes Ericsson’s close co-design of Ericsson Silicon, hardware, and software as key to its Product Energy Management leadership. The Ericsson Silicon range of chips are custom-made for mobile networks versus general purpose, and they span across the Ericsson Radio System, including RAN compute, radio, and transport functionalities. With 93.5% of Ericsson’s total carbon footprint coming from “Portfolio use of equipment,” a strong focus on next generation chip innovation and energy reduction should not only equate to savings in OPEX for CSPs but also contribute to breaking the 5G energy curve and reducing carbon emissions for Ericsson and its customers, while supporting data traffic growth
Ericsson did not lead in all equipment categories in the assessment. Other competing vendors had innovative and sustainable technology solutions for base station liquid cooling and on-site renewable energy, for example. ABI Research also assessed 16 Open RAN vendors for impact and implementation, and it was determined that traditional vendors like Ericsson are currently in the best overall position to address the sustainability needs of the telecom industry (though this could change with further OpenRAN integration and technological advancement.)
Network Energy Performance
In recent years, major network operators have set clear and ambitious targets for mitigating climate change. So, how will these MNOs achieve Net Zero? In a concise summary: renewable energy, energy reduction (across the networks), and carbon offsets only for emission technically unfeasible to eliminate. Understanding this focus and a need for more energy efficient networks, Ericsson has established the ambition to design new sites that reduce energy consumption by 40% by 2025. With renewable electricity powering the site, carbon emissions reductions per site can be up to 70%.
Moreover, in addition to designing more energy efficient equipment, Ericsson is continuing to develop and test artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics solutions. There are numerous 5G use cases for AI-enabled and data-driven networks. Ericsson highlights two popular AI-use cases for customers, including 5G key performance indicator (KPI) degradation (notifying operators of potential performance issues hours in advance) and advanced root cause analysis of a network. From a sustainability perspective, both can better enable remote operations while reducing transportation emissions of site visits. The further testing and evaluation of AI-enabled 5G power savings features (PSFs) with automated sleep and shutdown modes can also reduce energy use. Through various global trials of AI/analytics software, Ericsson has assessed that CSPs can achieve roughly 15% reductions in energy-related operational expenditure (OPEX), an approximate 15% reduction in site visits (related to passive equipment), and an approximate 30% reduction in energy-related outages.
Ericsson also scored well for its future research and development (R&D) in expanding data-driven networks to using machine learning (explained as the “how”) and machine reasoning (explained as the “what”) for allowing MNOs to potentially enable even higher levels of customer service (i.e., prioritize these customers with stringent 5G performance requirements) while intelligently managing their energy use.
In 2021, Ericsson’s 5G factory in Lewisville, TX, USA, was awarded by the World Economic Forum (WEF) a second time for leadership in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) manufacturing, and it was named a “Sustainability Lighthouse” for leveraging digital technology beyond productivity to sustainability. Ericsson’s 5G factory is powered 100% from renewable electricity both from on-site solar generation and certified green electricity from the utility grid, and the site uses 24% less energy and 75% less water than an equivalent building.
To make that happen, Ericsson has installed 1,646 solar panels, which produce electricity from direct sunlight and from light reflected from the ground, making them 30% more efficient than typical solar panels. To reduce freshwater consumption, the factory has 40,000-gallon (151,415 liter) rainwater tanks to ensure that all available sources are collected during Texas downpours. The tanks, in addition to high efficiency water fixtures, enable the significant water use reductions. Finally, to reduce energy consumption, especially during peak hours of the day, Ericsson installed thermal ice storage tanks. In these tanks, ice is produced at night, when demand is lower and electricity is cheaper, and then used to cool the factory during the day. The factory has also achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification, which requires a high level of scoring that is typically associated with office and residential buildings and not factories.
Ability to Scale Impact
Questionnaires and global market data from the ABI Research 5G Group helped to verify which vendors have the greatest ability to scale impact across the telecom sector. For example, strong implementation vendors have the most live 5G networks, the highest market share by region, the largest number of partners, contracts, and software licenses, etc. Ericsson finished #1 overall for implementation, with more than 125 live 5G networks and 50% of global 5G traffic (excluding China) carried on Ericsson networks. For scaling impact, Ericsson also offers products in numerous equipment categories (indicating a larger reach across the entire telecom sector), including massive MIMO, 5G RAN, Open RAN, AI-driven Software, Antenna Solutions, and 5G telco cloud-native platforms.
In all, the combination of a Net Zero-focused company, using sustainable manufacturing processes to make lightweight, compact, and energy-efficient products, while scaling those products across a large global market share, added up to make Ericsson ABI Research’s “Most Sustainable Telco Vendor.”
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