CTIA SPECIAL EDITION – APRIL 2, 2008
Improving the environment is always a good idea, but wireless companies are
finding ways to go green while bringing more “green” to their bottom lines.
Maybe it’s pressure from organizations such as Greenpeace. Maybe it’s just part of the larger trend of businesses going green, triggered in no small part by Nobel-prize winning Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps by adopting environmentally friendly practices, companies find themselves saving money.
Nokia’s Remade uses
no new materials.
Whatever the trigger, you’re hearing more and more wireless companies talk about their efforts toward a greener environment. It was a theme during keynotes at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) this year, where top executives from companies like China Mobile and Nokia noted their progress, and the topic is likely to come up at the CTIA Wireless 2008 convention in Las Vegas.
Alcatel-Lucent mentions its focus on climate change in a press release about its expanding W-CDMA/HSPA portfolio. Ericsson prominently displays a white paper about sustainable energy on its Website. In sum: “People now feel it’s something they have to address,” says Peter Jarich, Current Analysis analyst.
For years, the wireless industry has hammered on the point about recycling cell phones. Most carriers sponsor programs to collect phones, and they often urge consumers to get those phones out of desk drawers and into recycling or refurbishing centers. Via its Website, Nokia offers postage-paid return labels for people who want to mail in phones for recycling, regardless of the manufacturer. To date, the non-profit organization Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) has collected and recycled more than 42 million pounds of rechargeable batteries, according to Linda Gabor, director of marketing and media relations at RBRC.
Nokia’s 3110 sports covers made from
more than 50% renewable materials.
But environmental groups are stepping up pressure to do more. At CeBIT in March, Greenpeace highlighted its “Searching for Greener Electronics” survey. Fourteen major electronics brands agreed to provide information for the survey, which covered not only mobile phones but desktops, notebooks and PDAs. Thirty-seven products were awarded points against green design criteria, including the substitution of hazardous chemical substances, energy efficiency and recyclability. The Sony Ericsson T650i was singled out as the leader in mobile phones, performing well on the energy efficiency of its charger and being free of PVC and other chemicals. Also making the top five were the Nokia N95, LG Electronics KE970, Motorola KRZR and the Samsung SGH-G600.
Since Greenpeace started analyzing the mobile industry in 2005 – mainly in the handset arena as opposed to network infrastructure – it has seen improvements in policies and greener products coming to market, says Zeina Alhajj, campaign coordinator at Greenpeace. But in the mobile industry, product consumption is extremely high, as the industry well knows. All that growth and shorter handset replacement cycles lead to more waste, and it’s ending up in places like China, India and Africa, she says. Some chemicals used in handsets are banned in Europe and because most everyone wants to sell product in Europe, handset makers are cutting out those chemicals on a global basis. But in other areas, they fall short. For example, why aren’t chargers standardized so that they can work with any mobile phone model? “It’s just a bloody charger,” she says.
CANS, BOTTLES, TIRES…
Still, it’s not as if the industry is standing still. Nokia is one of those companies that talks about how it was going green before it was cool. “It’s really just the company culture,” says spokesman Keith Nowak. One relatively easy thing the Finnish company started doing was reducing the packaging around its phones. With phones getting smaller, the need for so much packaging diminishes, and just making the boxes smaller makes a big impact, he says. And it saves on packaging and shipping costs – it costs a lot to ship air, which is a standard component in so many consumer product packages. Nowak estimates Nokia now uses about half the packaging it previously used.
The Remade concept phone, which, as Nokia President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo noted during his MWC keynote, cannot yet make a phone call. But it is the result of what Nokia designers could do when tasked to make a device that uses no new materials. They ended up using metals from old aluminum cans, plastics from drink bottles and old car tires. Another device, the 3110 Evolve, is an actual device that sports bio-covers made from more than 50% renewable material. The plan is to expand that product line as designers learn more about various materials.
Efforts also are focused on chargers, which draw power even when they’re not being used. Nokia says it was the first manufacturer to put alerts on its devices to encourage people to unplug their chargers. The power that could be saved globally by all Nokia phone users unplugging their chargers when no longer needed is equivalent to enough energy to power 100,000 average-size European homes, the company says.
Of course, going green means addressing the network infrastructure as well. In a white paper published last August, Ericsson said assessment of its own products shows that in GSM and W-CDMA mobile networks, it’s the radio access network, particularly radio base stations, that are the highest contributors of CO2 emissions. The company concludes that it makes sense that any serious attempt to make mobile communications more energy-efficient should focus on the performance of the radio network while continuing to improve in other areas, such as the core network.
Installations of Nokia Siemen’s
FlexiPole (left) and FlexiWall
At Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), executives consider their green initiatives as strategic selling points for grabbing more market share in North America. When the two companies formed their JV, which was launched one year ago, it was a perfect time to scrutinize their businesses and set their priorities, explains Susan Schramm, head of marketing. Both companies had long-standing commitments in environmental concerns, and coming together, they anticipated wireless traffic growth and its impact on the environment. “We knew that if we were over time going to have a product portfolio to keep up with growth, it had to address this issue,” she says.
One aspect of that portfolio is the Flexi Base Station; the power consumption of the W-CDMA Flexi Base Station is as low as 540W, representing a reduction of up to 60% compared with conventional systems. Last year, NSN boasted the Flexi GSM Base Station as the smallest and most energy-efficient on the market; it looks about a fraction of the size of a conventional base station. The company says one of its missions is to minimize the number of base station sites required.
Schramm: Green is more than
a marketing plan; it is a
But wait a minute – isn’t NSN in the business of selling base stations? Schramm acknowledges the irony. But using smaller, more efficient base stations means the units can get installed in hard-to-reach places that otherwise might not get coverage. It’s not just developing regions of the world, either; in North America, new entrants that don’t have the real estate of their predecessors are looking for ways to set up sites without the acquisition costs of yesteryear, she says. In North America, network operators like TerreStar and Stelera Wireless are deploying NSN solutions.
Schramm adds that the commitment applies equally to the wireline side, including for backhaul, where things like power reduction requirements and reducing truck rolls also come into play. She notes that as a large global company, NSN, like a lot of wireless companies, is in a position to effect change on a grander scale and possibly faster than others.
Sharing solutions between countries is one way; advocating things such as video conferencing is another. Schramm notes a figure she’s heard: Research shows the carbon footprint of a 1-hour phone call is 1,000 times smaller than the environmental load of a 2,000-mile flight to meet someone in person.
HERE & ABROAD
Motorola is doing its part as well. The company is a Phase II member of Chicago’s Climate Change (CCX), a North American voluntary but legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction, registry and trading system. Motorola has committed to tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions and to achieving a 6% reduction in emissions by 2010 below a year-2000 baseline, according to Maya Komadina, external communications coordinator at Motorola.
What about using wind to power base stations? That’s what Motorola did last year in a pact with the GSM Association. Motorola deployed a wind and solar power system to operate MTC Namibia’s GSM cell site at Dordabis village in the Khomas region of Namibia, Africa. Motorola’s solution has the capability to be applied to other wireless networks as well, whether they be CDMA or WiMAX. The wind and solar cell sites mean there’s no need for monthly visits for refueling.
Motorola also says it is actively working with alternative powering technologies, including fuel cells that are hydrogen and methanol-based, as well as solar cells, to identify potential applications for increased power capacity in future handsets.
The company already has created a 2-way radio emergency application powered by a fuel cell; demonstrated with Angstrom technology a Motorola mobile device with an integrated fuel cell; and completed trials of specialized cell sites powered by an integrated solar cell.
In the end, companies aren’t likely to go green out of the goodness of their hearts. They need to make money or save money. When you change the context around how a decision is made, that’s a tipping point, says NSN’s Schramm. It comes down to sustainable business logic. “This isn’t just a marketing plan. It has to make business sense,” she says. And she’s eager to see how NSN and the industry as a whole fares. “I’m looking forward to what the next years will bring.”
Hopefully, more green for everybody.