How operators can help curb global warming

By Dr. Dahlit Brin 11 min read

Mobile operators carry a big responsibility on their shoulders. 5G not only provides the fun and efficiency of a superior digital experience, but also plays a key role in slowing down global warming. Telcos and the mobile industry have the “enablement effect,” empowering a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in other industries. At the same time, operators need to roll out 5G networks quickly while adopting green standards all along the supply chain to break the rising energy curve. Wireless backhaul is taking on an even bigger role in 5G and can help reduce CO2 emissions significantly.


Digitalization is here to stay. Technology can play a part in either destroying or saving our planet. I vote for saving it. While many environmental concerns have surfaced about 5G, what you don’t know is that 5G can actually help clean up our environmental mess.

Telecom operators can be our “knights in shining armor”, carrying double the responsibility by helping us clean up our act – or rather the air. In this post we will look at how mobile operators are key enablers for emissions reduction in other industries, while also facilitating green 5G networks.

A main cause for the destruction of our planet is global warming, caused by continuous and increased emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement’s goal is to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. This is to be done by achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2030 in a variety of industries that today are responsible for over 70% of global emissions.

Telcos – the Green superheroes

Mobile operators contribute “the enablement effect” – a multiplier effect that empowers other industries to reduce GHG emissions via mobile communications technology. Today, probably every industry has introduced digitalization into their operations in one way or another. The use of 5G – providing better and wider spread connectivity – translates into efficiency and productivity increases for many industrial and business processes, as well as in our private spheres.

A digital revolution is taking place, and it is driving automation and a new standard of data collection, monitoring, and analysis. This digitalization, for example, drastically shrinks the need for business travel, and allows for smart farming, municipalities, cars, and even buildings, which all directly and indirectly reduce GHG emissions significantly. Moreover, 5G can facilitate more efficient energy provisioning by utilities by enabling smart energy systems. In this way, 5G can ensure that digital transformation provides more visibility, control, and predictability to the grids – meaning more efficient use of energy resources.

In 2018, only 3 years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, the enablement effect of mobile operators reached over 2,000 million tons of CO2. This is almost 10 times more than the GHG emissions of all mobile networks worldwide. And that’s just the beginning. As modernization and digitalization continue in all industry branches, alongside with advances in renewable and emission free energy, the enablement effect of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry will reach mind blowing dimensions.

The mobile sector accounts for about 0.5% of total global emissions, which is relatively little compared to other industries. However, it is a growing global GHG emissions contributor since the need for energy is rising as demand for capacity grows and next-generation networks are being introduced.

Yet 5G must be a game-changer with respect to energy consumption. While 5G networks are expected to provide network capacity at quantities, speeds and reliability unheard of previously, they have to be more energy-efficient than earlier generations, to “break the rising energy curve” (GSMA).

How can 5G operators untie this Gordian knot?

According to a recent GSMA report on the delivery of next-generation connectivity, wireless backhaul “is set to play a central role” in the transition to 5G, despite the growing importance of fiber, and specifically higher capacity backhaul bands, such as E-, D- and W-bands, in addition to the traditional microwave spectrums. When looking at these wireless network configurations, there is a lot that can be done to reduce the energy footprint of the network.

First and foremost, operators will need to swallow that bitter pill and understand that inefficient older network equipment must be swapped out, and that they have to invest in energy-saving technologies. But what are those technologies?

In general, all-outdoor radios are a great source for energy reduction since they save the power needed to operate and cool/heat the indoor units within shelters that are required in all-indoor or split-mount alternatives. For an all outdoor solution, nature is the cooling system – you can’t get any eco-friendlier than that.

Looking “under the hood” you will find an often-overlooked gem – the cables. Cables are heavy – very heavy. To set up a network literally tons and tons of cables are needed. The transportation of these cable mountains to the sites – via trucks or helicopters – causes immense CO2 emission. All-outdoor radios and our latest split-mount solutions use a fiber cable to transmit traffic and a separate power cable for electricity. While this is true for every all-outdoor solution, unique to Ceragon is that we can deploy a 4+0 configuration with a single fiber traffic, via our L1 bonding capability. More capacity using less cables.

Fiber cables are made of silica, i.e. sand, and are much lighter than copper-based ones. The CAT 6 cable, often used as an alternative, is only 1 cable, but is heavier than the fiber-DC combination. Some of our all-outdoor radios are configured to require only a single cable. Although this is a copper based one, it significantly reduces the total meterage of cables needed. By using fiber instead of copper and shrinking those cable mountains, we can significantly reduce the environmental impact, as we minimize the subsequent emission-intense transportation.

In addition, Ceragon’s true Multicore equipment uses up less power than alternative configurations consisting of multiple radios. Moreover, Ceragon’s remote activation feature means that capacity upgrades can be done literally at the click of the button, without the need to send technical teams into the field. Just think how much CO2 emissions operators can reduce by not having to send out those trucks on what are often very long journeys.

A future proof network also reduces emissions. Ceragon’s wide-channel radios can provide higher capacity with only one box for a long time, where others must use two or more radios. Again, less boxes, less energy, greener planet.

But it’s not all about the boxes. Software-defined networking (SDN) is the future – and 5G not only goes hand in hand with it, but also offers a great energy-saving opportunity. Our smart energy-saving mode automatically switches off carriers when and where capacity can be reduced during low-traffic times.

We increasingly live and work in the virtual space, but we must not forget our real world and its biggest threat, namely global warming. While 5G provides us wonderful digital experiences, it also holds the key to help significantly reduce CO2 emission, the main cause of global warming. Operators play an essential role, being a catalyst for emission reduction in other industries. At the same time, they must roll out 5G networks fast and keep them green. Wireless backhaul, gaining in importance in the transition to 5G, offers many energy-saving opportunities along the 5G network supply chain.

Wireless backhaul is here to stay

Learn more


Read Next