Telcos bet on new technologies for environmental gains

  • Operators are increasingly vocal about their environmental awareness and sustainability initiatives
  • Recent moves show readiness to invest in, and adopt, innovations that promise climate benefits
  • Major players also double down on efforts to boost circularity

Telcos are keeping sustainability and green network efforts at the top of their agendas, with recent developments from some of the industry’s biggest players signalling an ever-increasing openness and readiness to invest in technologies that can minimise their carbon footprints.

This week, the investment arm of Telefónica – Telefónica Ventures – unveiled plans to support and partner with businesses that develop “cutting-edge” solutions that help with environmental sustainability enhancements.

In particular, it plans to back digital platforms that help businesses to manage the “increasingly complex world of carbon management” and offer tools to measure and reduce energy consumption, explained Jorge García Salgado, investment manager at Telefónica Ventures. 

It will, in part, focus on software that enables environmental, social and corporate governance [ESG] accounting and reporting. The telco giant also intends to support solutions that target supply chain emissions, as well as technologies tackling “the greenwashing issue and providing reliable benchmarks and guidance”.

In another recent move with a view to embracing new technologies for sustainability enhancements, African telco Vodacom has launched embedded SIM (eSIM) support for smartphones. According to the operator, eSIM will reduce carbon emissions as it removes the need for the manufacturing and shipment of plastic associated with physical SIM cards.

“The introduction of eSIM support for smartphones could not have come at a better time, as research shows that the number of eSIM-enabled smartphones in the market is growing rapidly,” said Rishaad Tayob, consumer business director at Vodacom South Africa. 

And there is certainly industry research that backs up his position: According to a forecast by Juniper Research, the value of the global eSIM sector is to increase from $4.7bn in 2023 to $16.3bn by 2027.

Another technology developed by mobile network infrastructure giant Ericsson also comes with green network credentials. in partnership with Nordic indoor wireless connectivity specialist Proptivity, Ericsson has deployed “the world’s first neutral host-led shared indoor 5G radio access network (RAN)” – a solution that is estimated to lower power consumption by up to 70% and the equipment footprint by up to 80% compared to legacy distributed antenna systems (DAS). 3 Sweden is the first operator to have connected to the shared indoor 5G network.


In addition to embracing novel technologies, a dozen major telcos are looking at minimising the carbon footprint of devices. A total of 12 operators globally have signed up to “pace-setting” circularity targets in cooperation with industry association the GSMA. 

The project is led by Tele2 and Orange, while BT, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad, KDDI, NOS, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel and Telefónica have also joined the initiative, which aims to boost the circular economy in the industry. 

Participating operators have pledged that at least 20% of all mobile devices distributed to customers by 2030 are mobile devices that have been garnered through take-back schemes.

They have also committed to ensuring, by the end of the current decade, that 100% of used mobile devices, collected through take-back programmes, will be repaired, reused or transferred to recycling organisations.

“Alongside existing commitments such as operators’ own targets, initiatives and national take-back schemes, this new set of goals is intended to help reduce ‘e-waste’, extending the longevity of mobile devices by giving them a second life, as well as recycling materials to be used in new smartphones”, the GSMA noted. 

According to the association’s findings, a refurbished phone can have 87% less impact on climate change than a newly manufactured handset. And that’s not all – if “properly” recycled, $8bn worth of gold, palladium, silver, copper, rare earth elements and other “critical minerals”, could be recovered from five billion mobile phones, as well as enough cobalt for 10 million electric car batteries.

Alongside these efforts, some operators have been expanding the requirements they have for their suppliers and technology partners, in a bid to reduce the largest portion of their emissions – see Telcos put the heat on suppliers with green network requirements.

All manner of green network and sustainability topics were discussed during the Green Network sessions, which were part of TelecomTV’s recent DSP Leaders World Forum event – see:

Optimising energy and power usage within networks
Developing a sustainable and innovative ecosystem 
The next steps to creating low-power, energy-efficient networks.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV