First study on the energy consumption of communications networks
The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom has published a pilot study on the energy consumption of communications networks in Finland. According to the study, the overall energy consumption of communications networks in 2021 was approximately 650 gigawatt hours. Data transfer in the mobile network consumes more energy than transfer in fixed networks. However, most of the energy consumed by telecommunications operators is based on renewable energy sources. The energy consumption of communications networks is estimated to cover around one fourth of the ICT sector’s overall carbon footprint.
There is a clear difference between the energy consumption of fixed and mobile networks. Based on the data collected, the radio networks of mobile networks covered around 60%, fixed access networks around 20% and other network sections in total around 20% of the overall consumption.
Traficom collected data on network energy consumption from the largest telecommunications operators
In spring 2022, Traficom carried out a pilot data collection, gathering data on the energy consumption of networks from the largest telecommunications operators. As regards communications networks, the most energy is consumed by the network sections closest to the end user. These include the access network of fixed networks and the radio network of mobile networks.
Furthermore, telecommunications operators report the network data transfer volumes in gigabytes to Traficom twice a year. Traficom’s review covers all mobile network generations from 2G to 5G and fixed network technologies from copper cable networks to optical fibre networks.
Based on this data, the energy consumption per each gigabyte (GB) transferred is 0.05 kilowatt hours (kWh) in the fixed network and 0.12 kWh in the mobile network when the energy consumption of other network sections is divided equally between both networks. Correspondingly, one kilowatt hour can transfer around 8.5 GB of data in the mobile network and around 20 GB in the fixed network.
Energy efficiency of communications networks important for electricity consumption
The current study on the energy consumption of communications networks and the data collected date back to 2021. Traficom will carry out another data collection on the energy consumption of communications networks in late spring 2023, which will also provide information on how the energy consumption has changed during the year.
Generally speaking, communications networks have become more energy-efficient, i.e. the amount of electricity consumed per transferred byte has decreased. Communications networks and their new generations becoming more energy-efficient is important in reducing growth in electricity consumption.
ICT sector and digitalisation can reduce emissions
Finland is a leading country in the development and use of mobile networks. Finland’s broadband goals are technology-neutral – both wireless and fixed connections are needed and promoted.
The ICT sector has a dual role. The information and communications technology sector produces solutions that promote emission reduction, but attention must also be paid to the sector’s own carbon footprint and other environmental impacts. Lately, these questions have raised increasing international attention.
“The current data collection shows that we need more information on the climate and environmental impacts of the ICT sector. This information is also needed internationally, as the ICT sector’s environmental impacts face increasing scrutiny,” states Chief Specialist Petri Makkonen from the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom.
The Ministry of Transport and Communications published the Climate and Environmental Strategy for the ICT Sector in Finland in spring 2021. One of the key challenges identified in the strategy was the insufficiency and fragmentation of data related to the sector. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom aims to increase the amount of available data on communications networks, and in cooperation with telecommunications operators has created consistent indicators in order to monitor the energy consumption of central communications networks.