Greening the machine

Green issues are moving up the agenda for MEA telecom operators
Issam Darwish, CEO, IHS.
Issam Darwish, CEO, IHS.
Vick Mamlouk, CommScope.
Vick Mamlouk, CommScope.

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Green issues are moving up the agenda for MEA telecom operators as environmental concerns grow and cost pressures encourage greater efficiency.

What makes a ‘green’ telecom operator? The answer lies not only in the way that a company conducts its own affairs, but also in the services and products that it makes available to its customers.

Ericsson’s head of sustainability and corporate responsibility for the Middle East, Joe Battikh, says the size of an operator’s carbon footprint depends on a range of factors, including the market they operate in and environment. In order to minimise their impact on the environment, operators need to look at all aspects of their business and assess how they can operate more efficiently. He says: “Our assessment of the process and procedures used throughout, confirm that energy use of products in operation remains our most significant environmental impact.”

Du’s vice president of asset management and corporate administration Abdulhadi Alalyak says that when assessing the size of an operator’s carbon footprint, it is important to look at the total amount of CO2 emitted to the environment for sites running on generators and sites running on mains power. “This calculation will give an indication and visibility of operator carbon footprint and once the operator has its carbon footprint, he can work on reducing it accordingly by implementing certain initiatives.”

Some of the areas that UAE telco Du looks to address include waste management and implementing a culture of e-services and the sharing of components such as antennas, feeder cables, BTS, and other transmission equipment. It has also looked to eliminate diesel generators powering its mobile towers.

Boosting efficiency

In the fast-growing mobile markets of the Middle East and Africa, mobile towers are often given as one of the most significant causes of pollution.

Increasing consumer demand for both universal coverage and capacity has led to the rapid proliferation of base stations,” says CommScope vice president, wireless Middle East and Africa Vick Mamlouk. “The number of off-grid base stations powered by generators was projected to reach 640,000 in 2012 and expected to consume $14.6 billion worth of fossil fuel. Energy costs weigh heavily on every wireless operator’s bottom line.”

Indeed, Mamlouk says power consumption is one of the top five economic operating expense considerations. “It is steadily becoming a major concern for operators because of fast-rising electricity and back-up system costs, as well as the obvious concerns about air and noise pollution.”

Despite this, carbon emissions and green initiatives are not at the top of regional telco chief executive’s agendas, according to Arthur D Little managing partner Thomas Kuruvilla. He says: “Telecom companies are more focused on finding new ways to stay ahead of the game vis-à-vis continuous pressure from new players entering the market and having their sights set on revenue growth and cost optimisation, versus concentrating on green issues.”

Ericsson’s Battikh says that the focus on energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon output in Europe and the US is more apparent than it is in the Middle East. He says: “It is important to remember that those markets are all very different. Operators in the Middle East are now actively working towards ensuring that their networks are energy efficient and we are already seeing a demand for our energy efficient solutions in the region such as the deployment of our Tower Tube solution (a system that uses air flow inside the tube to cool equipment located at the top of the tower) in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

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Making progress

Despite the suggestion that it is not an area of priority for some operators, there is no doubt that progress is being made. According to a report from Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group, operator spending on photovoltaic cell sites (a way of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation) the Arab World will total almost $144 million between 2012 and 2015, which it says will outstrip the value of regular generator sets for the first time. Arab Advisors also said that the operators it surveyed (which accounted for about 25% of the region’s telcos) plan to deploy 590 hybrid power and renewable energy systems to power network infrastructure in 2012 and 2013.

In April, Du announced it would add around 70 hybrid cell sites to its network in a bid to reduce its consumption of diesel and reduce its carbon footprint. The telco will deploy hybrid technology from Genset Efficiency Solutions, provided by Heliocentris, a company that specialises in energy efficiency and clean energy solutions. Heliocentris’s smart hybrid solution involves deep cycling batteries and a “smart energy manager”, which cycles the site’s load between generator and batteries, reducing the run time of the diesel-powered generator. Du estimates that its 137 existing Heliocentris solutions in the telco’s base transceiver station (BTS) helped it reduce its CO2 emissions by more than 2,500 tons during 2012. By the end of 2014, Du expects to reduce fuel consumption by more than 3 million litres and to cut CO2 emissions by more than 12,000 tonnes.

More recently (June), STC and OmanTel were reported to have lined up TCIL Saudi Communications to supply renewable energy services, involving a mix of solar, wind or biomass, to power the operators’ mobile towers.

But it’s not just about replacing towers with greener versions. Passive inter-modulation (PIM) noise is one of the biggest contributors to poor cell site performance, especially with LTE networks—making PIM management a top priority for wireless operators, says CommScope’s Mamlouk. “By improving PIM, operators improve data throughput, and this, in turn, helps improve capacity and conserve energy.”

Issam Darwish is chief executive of tower management company IHS, which owns about 1,200 sites and has a total of 4000 sites under its management. He says that power consumption varies, and that his company has devised different solutions according to the location. “We are investing in more efficient diesel generators and we have reduced our diesel bill by 40% so far,” he says. “A new generation of diesel generators are DC generators - they can slow down the rotation during slower traffic times.”

More than 10% of IHS’ network is now solar, and it pays careful attention to factors such as temperature and airflow to help increase the efficiency of its sites with an investment of around $100 million on its efficiency programme. Fixed and mobile networks have very different energy consumption patterns, as Arthur D Little managing partner Thomas Kuruvilla explains. He says that in fixed networks, most of the overall power consumption occurs in the user segment and only a limited amount is due to the operator. For mobile networks, only a limited amount of the overall energy consumption is related to the cellular users while the largest part is incurred by the operator.

Best practice

Kuruvilla singles out Etisalat and Du as examples of larger telcos that are complying with industry international best practices and regularly publish reports announcing their ambitions to cut their carbon emissions.

“The range of announced initiatives addresses different areas of the business among which those on the network has a crucial role – with the adoption, for example, of optic fibre and smart management solutions to decrease the amount of energy required to operate the network,” he says.

Indeed, Etisalat says that its nationwide fibre optic network in the UAE is expected to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption by over 80% and 70% respectively, although it doesn’t say over what period.

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Kuruvilla says it is important to highlight that some measures are interrelated. “In the data centers, the savings in electricity consumption obtained from the procurement of more energy efficient equipment will also lead to savings in the energy required for cooling in a 1 to 1 proportion, so that a watt saved in the data center power consumption saves at least a watt in cooling.

Operator initiatives: UAE telcos aim to make a difference

Telcos can help cut carbon by reducing their own emissions and also by helping their clients and customers to be more efficient. UAE incumbent Etisalat claims to be a “regional leader” in providing environmentally friendly information and communication solutions.

The UAE telco says this includes smart building technologies, the deployment of alternative power within its regional networks and the latest machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions.

At the start of the year, Etisalat Group and Pacific Controls, a global automation specialist, signed an agreement to offer Machine-to-Machine based sustainable development applications to clients across Etisalat’s footprint in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Pacific Controls says that the company’s technology and programme help businesses reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint by up to 30%.

Etisalat’s rival Du claims to be a “corporate eco-warrior” by reducing, reusing and recycling. One of the ways in which an operator can “reduce” is by offering its customers the opportunity to receive e bills. Electronic billing can cut down on the amount of waste paper and ink and delivery costs – both financial and environmental.

Du also claims that its retail outlet at Fujairah city centre is the nation’s first Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certified retail outlet – the highest LEED ranking possible. LEED certification recognises projects that achieve the highest environmental ratings for sustainability; water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, consumption of materials and resources, and indoor environment quality.

The Fujairah shop was designed, supervised and managed by Asset Management and Corporate Administrations (AMCA) projects’ team.

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