Huawei Chooses Not to Choose at Green Summit

Sustainability and the environment were important themes at MWC 2023. On the eve of the show, we attended Huawei’s Green ICT Development Summit in Barcelona, at which senior executives from all over the industry outlined goals and updated on progress. Let’s take a look at these recent steps.

In an impassioned speech, Peng Song, Huawei’s president of ICT strategy and marketing, told the audience that it shouldn’t be a case of having to prioritize either technology development or the environment. He acknowledged that although applications like artificial intelligence can improve customer experiences and network operations, they could also contribute to a projected 25-fold increase in energy consumption by 2030 with their need for higher bandwidth and computing power.

To address this problem, Huawei is working with mobile network operators to deploy green technology solutions in 100 countries. One example is the use of intelligent shutdown technology at times when network usage is low, using different dimensions including frequency, time, channel and power.

The company also stressed the need for greater usage of renewable energy sources, both for its mobile operator partners and in its own operations, explaining how an upgrade from network-specific to site-specific policies can improve the accuracy of renewable energy deployment. This is a topic we’ve examined in a series of reports considering the path to building greener mobile networks (see Insight Report: The Role of 5G and Networking in Sustainability).

To help operators on this journey, Huawei launched its Green 1-2-3 Solution: “1” refers to a single index for green network construction; “2” refers to a focus on high energy efficiency and very low consumption; and “3” refers to a solution covering sites, networks and operations.

This is all part of Huawei’s ambition to achieve “zero bit, zero watt” networks, a bold evolution of the “more bits, less watts” strategy outlined in 2022 (see Mobile Industry Goes Green in Face of Soaring Use).

Huawei was joined at the event by Massamba Thioye from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who was less complimentary about the industry’ progress, saying it’s not collaborating enough to lessen its impact on the environment. He called for private sector companies to forge closer ties with public organizations and for technology companies to work more closely together in industry sectors so they can identify sustainable opportunities.

The GSMA was also present, as Steven Moore, head of climate action, gave an update on its commitment to transform the mobile industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Reiterating earlier messages about the need to work together, he emphasized the importance of network operators collaborating with policymakers. According to Orange, the ICT sector is responsible for 3% to 4% of carbon emissions worldwide, including 1.6% from telecom operators.

Mr Moore said that the GSMA’s Climate Action Taskforce, set up in 2019 to engage with members on environmental issues, now has more than 60 mobile network operators from around the world on its roster. He sees transparency and disclosure as essential, noting that the GSMA advises its members and their partners to use the Carbon Disclosure Project’s global reporting system for greenhouse gas emissions. And encouragingly, so far in 2023, 67 operators representing two-thirds of global mobile connections have disclosed to this body.

Mr Moore also highlighted research by the GSMA, sponsored by Huawei, showing that consumers and businesses see climate change as the most pressing global challenge now and in the next five years, ahead of high inflation, the Ukraine war, food shortages and population growth. The findings slightly surprised us because of rising concerns about the cost of living. However, our own consumer research reveals that people are slowly beginning to consider environmental factors in their purchase decisions.

Several operators also talked about their progress, including China Broadnet, the newest mobile operator in China, which highlighted the environmental benefits of its network-sharing deal with China Mobile, claiming it’s the largest in the world. The partnership has helped limit the impact of network deployment as it requires 50% fewer mobile sites to be deployed. The network uses 700 MHz spectrum, which is well-suited to wide-area coverage, and comprises 1,400 base stations. Although saving costs is usually the main motivation for operators to set up a network-sharing agreement, I believe it’s also important for regulators to recognize their role in reducing carbon emissions.

Orange talked about its collaboration with Huawei in developing more efficient and sustainable hardware, as well as efforts to boost the use of renewable energy through solar farms (more on that here). The company runs an internal programme to redeploy network equipment across different markets — we believe this is a logical move for a provider like Orange, which operates in a mix of developed and developing countries.

Orange also explained the importance of using artificial intelligence to minimize energy consumption, which we note is becoming a popular option for many telecom operators seeking to make networks more flexible and responsive to customer demand. And to further improve the energy efficiency of its network, Orange developed a plan with Huawei in Egypt during the COP27 climate conference to switch from traditional fossil fuels to green power.

An African perspective came from MTN, which talked about how the region is hugely affected by environmental issues such as drought and flooding even though it makes a proportionately small contribution to global emissions. It echoed previous comments about the need for collaboration and set out an ambition to reach net zero carbon by 2040. But the operator also warned that technology needs to be tailored to individual markets and that success will require a mix of green solutions. This makes sense in the context of MTN’s broad operations, spanning 19 markets and over 285 million customers.

MTN also shared its greenhouse gas profile at the event, saying that 78% of its emissions are caused by activities from assets it doesn’t own or control, known as Scope 3 under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. We understand this is close to average for a large telecom operator. Across Scopes 1, 2 and 3, South Africa accounts for the majority of MTN’s emissions at 38%, followed by Nigeria at 34%.

All in all, the summit offered a positive update on recent progress in developing green technology solutions. There’s undoubtedly much more that the industry can do to lessen its burden on the environment, but the developments highlighted at the event are good examples of how it’s pushing to overcome challenges and achieve its ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions.