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The European digital think tank IDATE DigiWorld presented on February 28 in Barcelona during the "Green All-optical Network Forum" on the side-lines of the Mobile World Congress, its last white paper "Fibre for a sustainable future, A key enabler to lower carbon emissions". The conference brought together telecommunication operators, decision-makers and international regulators to discuss the impacts of optical fibre on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

ICT are essential levers to meet the challenge of global CO2 reduction 

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown dramatically over the past three decades and are a major concern for our societies. Their harmful environmental impact is pushing governments, private companies, and civil society to reorganize and find cutting-edge solutions to meet this challenge.

The telecommunications industry is undergoing significant changes designed to reduce its carbon footprint through cutting-edge innovations and solutions. ICT and digital network innovations are at the heart of these changes.

The higher levels of connectivity made possible by ICT have revolutionized every aspect of our lives: the way we communicate, entertain, collaborate, or work. The widespread adoption of ICTs has fostered solutions across industries that could reduce the current rate of emissions by 15% to 20%.

Fibre is the most energy efficient technology

Among the communication technologies, optical fibre is the most energy efficient, and therefore the one with the smallest carbon footprint. Fibre consumes three times less energy than xDSL and 10 times less than 4G. Based on data from the GeSI (Global e-Sustainability Initiative) “Smarter 2030” study, IDATE estimates that the reductions enabled by fibre will reach 1.6 Gt of CO2 by 2030.

The telecommunications industry has already begun its migration to 100% fibre networks. Today fibre optic networks constitute the backbone network for 5G and for the various FTTx environments. A 100% fibre network, at very high speed and with significant bandwidth, can provide an Internet connection that meets multi-service requirements, while keeping carbon emissions at a level significantly lower than any other communication technology. That said, there are multiple levers to continue to reduce GHG emissions through improvements in equipment or more capillary fibre optic networks.

All industries impacted by the CO2 reduction potential of fibre networks

The impact of reducing GHG emissions from fibre optic networks goes beyond the telecom industry alone. Fibre connections are essential to the provision of new digital uses for many industries that depend on access to fixed or wireless networks. As a result, larger and more capillary fibre networks would also allow them to reduce their carbon footprint.

This reduction should not be overlooked. On the one hand, fibre would have a direct influence on the industry’s ability to reduce its CO2 emissions by being more energy efficient. On the other hand, it would have an indirect influence on the more efficient use of energy, heating, or water consumption thanks to optical networks of measuring devices or meters.

Many use cases have been identified where a more capillary optical network would reduce CO2 emissions. From smart homes to larger environments such as airports, hotels, or smart campuses, as well as power grids or smart factories, we have compiled a long list of use cases that manufacturers should consider.

For example, in the manufacturing industry, a combination of very high-speed access and the Internet of Things would pave the way for innovative applications and solutions such as 3D printing, smart sensors or automation which are likely reduce CO2 emissions. Overall, these digital innovations combined with emerging technologies like AI or IoT can optimize the structure of energy consumption, improve business efficiency, and reduce its carbon footprint.

We conclude that manufacturers should better consider the use of fibre optics. At a time when these manufacturers are developing a strategic environmental roadmap, we would like to highlight the important lever that fibre optic networks could represent.