How BT Group is making our networks more energy efficient


By Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer , BT Group

In the current climate, the efficient use of energy has never been so urgent. BT Group consumes nearly 1% of the UK’s electricity so how we use it is critically important.

A leader on climate action for 30 years, we have a long-term plan. In December 2021 we launched the BT Group Manifesto setting out how we’ll accelerate responsible, inclusive and sustainable growth over the next decade.

We’ve made great progress. We’ve already made the switch to 100% renewable electricity worldwide. Today, our networks and buildings are all powered by renewable electricity, and we’re aiming to transition our fleet to electric or zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

But we can and must do more to meet the shorter-term challenges.

As the UK’s largest provider of fixed-line broadband and mobile services in the UK, it isn’t a surprise that over 90% of our overall energy consumption – and nearly 95% of our electricity - comes from our networks. Current energy demand has highlighted how important it is that we deliver even greater efficiency into the business and reduce our demand on the UK’s power grid. We’re taking a number of steps to do just that.

Removing or replacing energy inefficient technologies

Through our mobile network, EE, and our fibre infrastructure division, Openreach, we’re delivering new high-speed technology powered by 100% renewable electricity. But equally important is removing our legacy networks, such as the PSTN (public switched telephone network) and 3G, which are the biggest culprits for energy wastage.

Moving customers off the old analogue PSTN will be done carefully and once achieved, will allow us to downsize the number of buildings we have and reduce our overall electricity usage. The energy consumption of these exchanges is equivalent to powering, lighting, heating and cooling 175,000 homes.

Our 3G network, despite transmitting less than 2% of data over our network, accounts for over 35% of the energy used in our Radio Access Networks (RAN). We plan to start shutting the 3G network down from early 2024. We’ve already closed our indoor femtocell-based signal booster devices, a service made obsolete by Wi-Fi calling. This alone provided energy savings equivalent to taking 600 cars off the road (6.5 million kilowatt hours). Closing down the 3G network will enable us to re-allocate spectrum resources. This is critical for the continued roll-out of our 5G network, which is up to 90% more efficient in its use of energy.  

And we aren’t stopping there. In an effort to speed up this programme, my management team and I are regularly spending a day in exchanges with our engineering colleagues to identify opportunities to de-power and recycle equipment.

Using energy more intelligently in our networks

We’re deploying new technology to enable low power networking or power saving modes in our equipment or when sites are not being used.  In our Radio Access Network, we’ve seen that by swapping out older equipment and installing new software features that intelligently shut down radio equipment when not needed, we can keep power consumption flat, despite growth in data traffic.

Recently, we announced our deployment of Ericsson’s latest ultra-lightweight Massive MIMO radio technology, which will not only deliver improved 5G network performance but will also deliver a reduction in energy consumption of up to 40% less than the previous generation of radio equipment. We’ll have this technology added to around 1,000 sites over the coming months.

Innovating for the future

A global leader in R&D, we’re innovating for energy efficiency solutions for the future. We are obsessively evaluating new materials for ICT that can generate less heat, be cooled more efficiently/do not require active cooling or can be powered optically and contribute to a circular economy.

Looking to the future, we’re using digital twin technology to understand energy efficiency in the network and identify changes to improve efficiency, predict energy usage into the future and improve climate resilience. Through the use of digital twin technology, advanced analytics and machine learning, BT is positioning itself to better understand its own requirements as a business.

Facing into the short term challenges this winter

These plans are vital in supporting our business and our customers to be more efficient. But we know this winter could bring real challenges to the nation’s power supplies. That’s why we’re in discussion with the Government and Environment Agency over what further contribution businesses like BT can or will have to make to reduce our demand on the Grid this winter, such as the temporary use of alternate power supplies at peak times. We’re gearing up so we’re ready to offer that support and remain focused on doing everything we can to support the national efforts of the country over the coming months.

In a world where action is needed now, BT Group is doing everything it can to reduce energy consumption. Steps like those outlined are crucial in supporting our business and our customers to be more efficient and we’re confident in our short and long-term plans.