Gabriel Bonilha, EMEA professional services manager, Vertiv looks at what telco’s can do to support its customers

Energy-efficiency is no longer a cost & compliance exercise, but one of Telco's top business priorities. The rollout of 5G and EDGE brings new complexities around energy demand and management, forcing telecom operators to sharpen up their strategies and invest in more efficient practices. The question is, can operators rise to the challenge and prepare for an era of smarter and more efficient global communications?

Taking the right approach

Telecom operators must take both a CAPEX and OPEX approach to energy-efficiency. This means looking at how to invest in equipment that is optimised for efficiency (CAPEX approach) at the same time as ensuring that all infrastructure is maintained to be as energy efficient as possible (OPEX approach). To move the dial on energy efficiency, telecom operators must recognise that these strategies go hand-in-hand.

An active CAPEX approach means that Telcos must prioritise energy-efficiency when it comes to purchasing new equipment. This might incur a larger upfront cost, but the long-term ROI is much stronger as operators spend less time and money needing to maintain, update, power and cool inefficient equipment.

Investing in energy-efficient equipment is an important first step, but it must be operated and maintained properly if it is to remain efficient. This is where operators must embrace the OPEX approach to energy-efficiency - ensuring that the sites run as efficiently as possible day after day. For example, they must consider cooling requirements comprehensively - for how long does air conditioning need to be actually running and what are the tolerated temperature and humidity ranges? This is where new software applications come into force, as they help operators achieve both an active and passive approach to energy-efficiency.

Finally, hybrid funding models, like Vertiv´s ESaaS (Energy Efficiency as a Service) can be considered to get the best of both worlds.

Smarter sites

We have seen the telecom industry transition toward data-led sites that are less dependent on human interface, these sites are also known as smart sites. This shift can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of sites as fewer people need to travel back and forth. On-site technology can inform telecom operators when issues arise so that appropriate remediation can be organised with fewer site visits. For example, thermal imaging cameras can identify problems, find the root cause and the extent of the damage, and make an accurate assessment on the appropriate engineering team. This approach has a measurable impact on energy efficiency, making a strong business case for continued investment into smarter technologies and remote monitoring applications.

Strategic outlook

One of the biggest challenges facing telecom operators is meeting current customer needs whilst also building capacity for increasing demand that will be driven by 5G, EDGE & Fibre supported applications. Telcos will soon have a role beyond just supporting existing consumers. They will be called on to help local authorities grapple with their smart city strategies and growing IoT implementations. Building strategies for these complex systems requires flexibility. Telco energy managers need to ensure that infrastructure is designed to scale to meet growing demand for new types of connectivity in the future. Fail to plan for the long-term, and telco operations risk being ripped out to start again - a mistake that will have financial and reputational repercussions.

Getting renewables right

To support sustainability challenges and increasing complexity in the industry, telecom operators are turning to renewable energy resources. Compared to a decade ago, operators can now choose from a wider range of renewable options as it is a lot easier to procure them. Striking a balance is key to getting renewables right as any critical infrastructure provider cannot afford to put “all of their eggs in one basket”. This will lead to Telcos taking a combined approach to managing renewables, both on their own and also outsourcing to third parties.

Telco operators must embrace a holistic approach to energy. For example, as a telco operator, you might build micro wind turbines on cell sites. It might not be the most efficient turbine in the world (because it’s a small turbine and doesn’t have economies of scale) but if you buy that same kW of energy from an energy supplier who’s putting the energy in another part of the country, then you have transmission losses (effectively having to put in more than one kW to get one kW out). This telco operator will start to ask questions such asWhat do you do with that lost kW? Do you offset that loss? These are all things that need to be considered.

Balance is at the heart of Telco energy-efficiency strategy. There are many considerations when rolling efficient technology and practices and getting it right will initially be a judgement call until the telco industry is advanced enough to see what best practice really looks like.

Operators face a multitude of complex challenges, both in terms of addressing energy consumption in the short-term, but also planning for a complex future of 5G, EDGE, Fibre, smart cities and a growing pool of stakeholders. No one holds the tarot cards to the exact future of Telco, but one fact remains certain – building and sustaining a resilient and efficient infrastructure requires flexibility, scalability, and a strategic mindset.