Early October, ARCEP, France’s Regulatory Authority, architect and guardian of the country’s internet, fixed and mobile networks, launched a public consultation on a reference policy framework for the eco-design of digital services. ARCEP’s proposal seeks to provide a reference grid for digital industry stakeholders wanting to commit to sustainable design.
One of the four objectives of the policy framework is to decrease the IT resources mobilised, among others by optimising data traffic and the load on digital infrastructures. To be adopted by the start of 2024, the framework will serve as a common base of best practices to reduce digital services’ environmental footprint.
Academic research provides solid foundation to ARCEP’s policy framework. In the Paper “Evaluating Sustainable Interaction Design of Digital Services: The Case of YouTube” by researchers of the University of Bristol, a simulation of the adoption of Sustainable Interaction Design (SID) of digital services applied to YouTube estimates a reduction of CO2 emissions of 300 Kt per annum; that is a 3% of the estimated yearly 10 MtCO2 emissions YouTube is estimated to generate in one year.
ARCEP’s approach gives rise to a third wave through which telecommunication networks can further contribute to enabling Europe’s green transition: fostering the adoption of an efficient use of networks.
Telecom industry adds a third wave to ongoing efforts supporting EU Green Transition
First wave – More efficient network technologies
European telcos have invested €500 billion over the last decade in upgrading and rolling out connectivity infrastructure. A strong focus of these network upgrades has been placed on energy efficient technologies and the reduction of the environmental footprint. New 5G networks use up to 90% less energy than the previous generation. Similarly, the optical network is more than 80% energy efficient than copper. Additionally, Telefonica has approved the global goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040 across the value chain. In seven years, we have already reduced 51% of our GHG -Greenhouse gas- emissions. We have further strengthened our commitments to help limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, being part of the Business Ambition for 1.5ºC.
Telecoms are becoming a green industry.
Second wave – Telecom networks and EU-Taxonomy
Digitalisation allows us to spread the use of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data or Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our networks. The smart solutions they offer enable us to use the network resources more efficiently and move towards a circular economy. The use of applications based on Big Data and AI, for example, help manage water more efficiently in agriculture. Applied to mobility, this technology can make transport safer and greener through traffic management. Summing up, digitalization, having high-capacity broadband networks at its foundation, enables other sectors and society to reduce their environmental footprint. That is why we advocate for telecom networks to be included in the EU-Taxonomy.
Telecoms enables other industries becoming green.
Third wave – an efficient use of networks
Data traffic in telecoms networks has exploded over the last decade. In 2022, data traffic has been 27 times that of 2012. By 2032 it is expected to be 24 times the data traffic of 2022. And video, with stringent quality of service requirements, will be major driver behind traffic demand. While video accounted for roughly two thirds of traffic in telecoms networks (67% in fixed and 60% in mobile) in 2023, it will exceed 70% by 2030 (74% in fixed and 72% in mobile): pressure for additional resources for network capacity upgrades will remain high in years to come, limiting telecoms flexibility to allocate investments to coverage expansion – expanding 5G and gigabit infrastructures- or to network innovation.
Just six digital platforms currently demand over 50% of networks capacity, inefficiently loading networks as if being endless resources: video prefetching and autoplay, undesired video ads, streaming strategies to occupy all available bandwidth without other considerations, setting video bitrates higher than needed, not adapting video to the screen size of the devices, setting off by default data saving mode and using outdated codecs are examples of irresponsible network use. At present, digital platforms have no incentive to make a responsible and efficient use of the networks.
Adopting efficient use of network policies by reducing traffic loads will not only diminish energy consumption and CO2 emissions of both content and application providers and network operators, but will also allow network providers a more efficient allocation and reduction of consumption of investment and other resources such as spectrum, number of microcells and base stations to be deployed, digging and civil work needed, etc.
An efficient use of networks enables reducing environmental impact across the digital value chain.
Promoting an efficient use of networks can have a positive and wide-reaching environmental impact while reinforcing the sustainability of the telecom sector. It is the responsibility of all in the digital value chain to adopt and implement such policies, and of the EU Commission to provide incentives to secure this is a reality.