Climate Change

How AT&T's network chief hopes to cut a $1.6B electricity bill

SEATTLE – AT&T's Chris Sambar is putting the operator's growing 5G network to sleep at night – a move he said will help reduce the operator's annual $1.6 billion network electricity bill.

"We're constantly trying to reduce that," Sambar said of AT&T's power needs. "I think about that a lot."

Speaking here at the Mobile Future Forward event hosted by Chetan Sharma Consulting, Sambar said that one of his top goals as AT&T's networking chief is to reduce the operator's energy needs.

AT&T's Chris Sambar said the operator is powering down midband 5G radios at night, leaving lowband operating. His goal is to reduce a $1.6 billion power bill.  (Source: Roman Tiraspolsky/Alamy Stock Photo)
AT&T's Chris Sambar said the operator is powering down midband 5G radios at night, leaving lowband operating. His goal is to reduce a $1.6 billion power bill.
(Source: Roman Tiraspolsky/Alamy Stock Photo)

He said that AT&T's network electricity bill has stayed roughly the same, around $1.6 billion a year, even as traffic on the operator's network has skyrocketed.

Switching off

One of AT&T's new strategies to reduce its network energy consumption is to power down parts of its wireless network at night, when it's mostly unused.

Specifically, he said the operator is turning off its 5G radios working in midband spectrum. He said the operator's 5G radios in lowband spectrum remain powered on to handle whatever traffic the operator's customers generate during the night.

"It's relatively new to us," he said of the approach.

Indeed, energy savings have become a big selling point among 5G equipment vendors. Ericsson, for example, recently said that its new Radio 6646 uses 40% less power than previous products.

But that's just one element of a broader effort at AT&T. During his keynote appearance here, Sambar said the global 5G industry needs to work together to reduce its overall energy consumption.

The Boston Consulting Group recently said that the global communications and information (ICT) industry is responsible for around 3% or 4% of all carbon emissions, roughly twice as much as civil aviation.

For AT&T, the company has committed to be carbon neutral across its entire global operations by 2035.

In its network operations specifically, AT&T reported that last year it implemented nearly 4,100 energy-impacting activities, generating annualized savings of nearly $30 million.

"These activities are detailed and complex; they comprise more than 140,000 individual tasks and projects across our entire network," the company wrote.

The operator also explained that those efforts include "systematically decommissioning and removing obsolete and outmoded network capacity and hardware. We continue to shift control from hardware to software to make our network faster, simpler and more scalable. Our software-defined network allows us to make advances in minimizing unused capacity, unnecessary energy expense and real estate square footage."

Controlling consumption

The importance of energy consumption – and reduction – is quickly coming into focus in the data center industry. For example, energy issues were a key reason why DigitalBridge recently agreed to pay $11 billion to acquire data center operator Switch.

As reported by Data Center Frontier, Switch operates data centers in California, where the power grid has struggled to keep up with demand.

"Switch has over 1.5 gigawatts of power capacity that they draw from three different sources of green energy. In a market like Reno where they have land, they have renewable power and they control their destiny, they can light up almost 800 megawatts of capacity that's less than 0.2 milliseconds from Santa Clara. So we're really excited about the prospects for Switch," explained DigitalBridge chief Marc Ganzi.

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The publication noted that similar power constraints have affected data center operations in locations ranging from Dublin, Ireland to Northern Virginia.

"They [Switch] are planning for the future and trying not to be entirely reliant on the existing grid, and I think most data center operators are thinking through that conundrum as well," Ganzi continued.

"We're really excited about closing on Switch because they've actually got more ready-lift capacity than anybody else in the market."

Continued Ganzi: "Our customers like that narrative, and want to be in data centers where it's sourced by green energy. And it's not woke speak, right? This is hardcore reality. This is a company that planned for this, [with a] great management team and great CEO."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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