How Can Middle Eastern Telcos Become True Leaders of Sustainability?

How Can Middle Eastern Telcos Become True Leaders of Sustainability?

By Pete Hall, Regional Managing Director, Ciena Middle East & Africa

The unmistakable urgency of combating climate change is resonating across the globe, and the Middle East is no exception. Anticipated global warming of 1.5°C or more is expected to exacerbate the already prevalent extreme temperatures, water scarcity, and vulnerability of low-lying areas of the Middle East.

As a predominant force in the traditional oil and gas sector, the Middle East is intricately woven into the fabric of the historical energy paradigm.

Regional governments and private sectors are aligning, with sustainable city projects like NEOM in Saudi Arabia and Masdar City in the UAE paving the way. The region currently generates solar energy at the lowest cost globally.

This competitive edge is unlocking vast opportunities for the Middle East as it has earmarked over US$2 trillion for prospective infrastructure projects, which presents numerous chances to pioneer in creating sustainable destinations, reshaping international supply chains, and promoting a circular economy.

Telecommunications companies in the Middle East are well-positioned to lead the charge in this green revolution. As we've seen with stances like the UAE Net Zero by 2050 initiative and the KSA’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2060, there is a significant drive toward realizing eco-friendly practices across all sectors.

Network evolution as an agent for transformative progress

In the Middle East, network transformation is pivotal to reducing emissions. As regional telcos upgrade to 5G they have an opportunity to revamp networks to be more energy-efficient by leveraging the latest hardware and software innovations.

These advancements promise improved performance with a reduced power and spatial footprint, essential in a region where land space is valuable, and cooling costs are high due to the hot climate.

Adopting a "less is more" approach, Middle Eastern telcos are deploying compact, material-efficient equipment that results in less waste. The outcome is two-fold: robust network expansion aligns with the area's digital boom, while concurrently shrinking the energy per bit needed for operation.

Given their mandate to modernise network infrastructure, telcos are increasingly replacing outdated, energy-intensive hardware in fixed and mobile networks with more sustainable equipment and architectures.

This not only delivers significantly improved performance but also operates within a much smaller power and space envelope. The outcome is a more efficient network with substantially reduced power consumption.

Beyond moving away from legacy hardware, a greater opportunity for network transformation lies in embracing a software-led strategy driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). Streamlining and automating network operations with new AI/ML capabilities empower telcos to reap even higher energy savings.

Promoting sustainable network practices via software-centric strategies

Complementing existing hardware, advanced software can keep networks running smoothly while simultaneously helping to keep the earth green.

For instance, virtualized services such as remote management and troubleshooting can help operators reduce “truck rolls” – eliminating the need for physical installations and repairs.

Leveraging cloud-native network functions (CNFs) also allows telcos to host and manage network functions in the cloud instead of relying on multiple physical network devices. Such an approach goes a long way toward eliminating power-hungry devices and reducing carbon emissions throughout the network.

Meanwhile, combining open application programming interfaces (APIs) with dynamic inventory capabilities enhances telcos' ability to spot equipment requiring decommissioning or replacement and select the best traffic route.

With the help of intelligent automation, telcos can improve visibility over existing network assets.

These technologies can enhance telcos’ traffic engineering capabilities and enable them to scale network capacity in line with fluctuating demands and sudden spikes in traffic – ultimately maximising bandwidth utilisation without over-provisioning resources.

Network transformation entails full visibility of network assets and topology. The synergy of AI, ML, and telemetry data-driven analytics is already empowering telcos in the region to identify opportunities for energy conservation, including analysing network usage and performance data and optimising 5G cell sites based on real-time demand.

Enabling telcos to become drivers of sustainability

Ongoing innovation drives telco sustainability, but this potential may be left unrealized without the right underlying network infrastructure. When thinking about sustainability, telcos are going beyond mere AI and ML implementation and taking a more holistic approach to network transformation.

This means going beyond static hardware upgrades and transitioning towards using predictive intelligence to optimize the utilization of existing assets in a more sustainable and cost-effective manner.

Autonomous networks, which can run without human intervention, have been gaining momentum over the years.

But while the autonomous network can configure, monitor, and maintain itself independently, eliminating all human intervention from network management and operations isn’t realistic – nor does it come without risks.

Time, field experience, and trust in new capabilities will determine how, when, and where telcos will implement autonomous networks.

Instead of building networks that are simply automated, operators can look towards building networks that are adaptive. Adaptive networks can intelligently and proactively adjust to changes instead of merely reacting to them.

Embracing adaptive networking drives the programmability, intelligence, openness, scale, and security needed to run networks effectively and sustainably.

This is key to streamlining operations – delivering unified visibility, analytics, and performance monitoring across a multi-layer network; and fully leveraging the capabilities of AI and ML in optimising the total number of wavelengths or reducing energy consumption.

Middle Eastern telcos have a golden opportunity to carve out a leadership position in sustainability through network transformation.

By leveraging the latest in AI, ML, and adaptive network technologies, they can build networks that are not only efficient and reliable but also align with the region's sustainability goals. The path forward involves embracing change with a clear vision and steadfast commitment to a greener, smarter future.

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