Why sustainability matters more than ever to telcos

ZTE’s 16th annual sustainability report provides an update on progress to date

Sponsored Feature Rising energy prices are hitting the telecommunications industry hard. And this at a time when it's already struggling with the cost of building new networks, handling rapid growth in traffic levels and endeavouring to transition away from legacy technologies.

Even prior to the spike in electricity bills, operators were spending around 5 percent of revenues on energy, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. In many instances, surging power prices are now eclipsing sales growth by more than 50 percent, says the same report. Yet at the same time initiatives by telco businesses to flip to cheaper and more sustainable energy sources are enjoying mixed results, in some cases getting held back by operational and organizational limitations.

Many operators are concluding that their best strategy is to join forces with an appropriate technology partner if they are ever to reduce their reliance on carbon-based energy and associated fluctuations in pricing and supply. And ideally that partner would be able to demonstrate not only a track record in helping telcos to decarbonize their businesses but also a genuine commitment to sustainability in their own operations.

The ZTE Corporation is a prime candidate here, a provider of integrated information and communication technology solutions which has a track history of green innovation. The company recently released its 16th Sustainability Report, which reveals that ZTE has so far assisted global operators in saving more than 10 billion kWh in electricity consumption annually. It has worked with over 1,000 partners across a number of sectors on green 5G deployments for example, helping them to hit their sustainability goals, achieve cost reductions, realize substantial efficiency improvements, and drive energy conservation and emission reduction.

ZTE is furthering the green agenda of several mobile operators by enhancing the energy efficiency of its 4G and 5G RAN network infrastructure and solutions. This year has seen the debut of its Super-N 2.0 platform, built to deliver up to a 30 percent PA efficiency improvement while simultaneously lowering power consumption by 35 percent.

The company is also integrating 5G with AI to help deliver more precise power saving improvements. By bringing AI processing closer to users at the network edge, it aims to reduce data transmission delay, improve data processing efficiency and cut costs. The result is real-time decision making that improves user experiences as well as energy consumption, says the company. This AI-driven approach is designed to combine maximum traffic performance with minimal energy use, and can be applied to a multitude of common network coverage scenarios, from university campuses to factories and business parks.

Patents and partnerships

Currently holding over 650 green patents, and having conducted carbon footprint assessments for 100 products across several categories, ZTE is no stranger to this kind of sustainability innovation. Nor have these milestones been reached in isolation.

"Together with global customers, partners, investors, and people from all walks of life, we will build a digital and intelligent ecosystem, making efforts and contributions to promote industrial revolution, accelerate social development, and enhance the well-being of all humanity," states ZTE CEO Xu Ziyang in the latest Sustainability Report.

ZTE launched its SPIRE strategy in 2018, aimed at improving customer value, achieving technology and cost leadership, and building an efficient supply chain for the delivery of products and services. SPIRE 2.0 is now underway, and is all about collaborating with partners for sustainable development. Its objectives include:

  • Creating a resilient supply chain that functions as a green ecosystem, embracing suppliers and the suppliers of those suppliers.
  • Providing targeted information flows to satisfy the needs of ZTE's customers, and of their customers.
  • Evolving as a digital business towards smarter operations and a more interconnected ecosystem.
  • Ensuring product and technological leadership with a focus on quality and reliability.

What ZTE hopes to deliver is a more resilient supply chain, backed by diverse training programs aimed at boosting the capabilities of suppliers so that they are jointly contributing to sustainable development. Here are some of the results that the company has already recorded according to the Sustainability Report:

  • In 2023, ZTE achieved a 9.7 percent year-on-year decrease of absolute GHG emissions (across Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3) throughout its value chain. This reduction is equivalent to mitigating over seven million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • It managed a 14.58 percent year-on-year decrease in the physical intensity of GHG emissions during the use and maintenance phases of the telecom products it sold.
  • ZTE's solar power generation capability increased in terms of installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 22 MW last year, representing growth over the previous year of 700 percent. It is now helping more telcos to cut their electricity consumption through carbon reduction audits and increasing their installed PV capacity.

The betterment of humanity

ZTE says it is also "working for the betterment of humanity" through its participation in the ITU's Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. This aims to bridge the global digital divide between developed and developing nations, and has seen ZTE build high-performance networks in over 100 countries. ZTE was recognized as one of the first P2C Champions by the ITU for its work in constructing ICT infrastructure among Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The Sustainability Report sets out how this championing of green communications technologies and the provision of connectivity in every corner of the world has been baked into the full ZTE product lifecycle and all of its business processes spanning R&D, production, logistics and customer services. That approach has proved instrumental in helping to reduce global energy consumption and carbon emissions for itself, its partners and its customers, says the company. Added to these initiatives are public welfare and relief activities to benefit global communities, all helping ZTE to hit significant milestones in environmental, social, and governance fields.

Elsewhere the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) was established in 2015 with the aim of helping companies set emission reduction targets in line with established climate science. ZTE is one of the initiative's signatories as part of its own plan to reach operational carbon neutrality by 2040 and comprehensive net zero by 2050. The SBTi has approved these ambitious targets which will play their part in keeping greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1.5°C temperature rise limitation.

"Sustainable development and ESG have become a global consensus and important driving force for the transformation of global economy," states Xie Junshi, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of ZTE Corporation, in the report. "In this regard, ZTE incorporates sustainability and ESG into corporate operations and governance, sticks to the philosophy of Tech for Good, and takes on the responsibility and role of a leading ICT player, to bridge the digital divide and enable connectivity and trust everywhere."

Xie believes this year will witness even faster convergence and evolution of energy and digital technologies. Large language models (LLMs) and generative AI (GenAI) for example are already seeing widespread adoption and deployment, with new business models poised to emerge.

As that trend gathers momentum, ZTE will be offering continued support to the telecoms industry as it seeks to pursue aggressive sustainability goals, helping it cut costs and improve efficiency while driving energy conservation and reducing emissions.

Sponsored by ZTE.

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