Whether their motives are cutting opex or fighting climate change, mobile operators in India and other emerging markets are going green with power-saving technologies.
At last month's CommunicAsia event, Indian start-up Acme Power Tele showcased a range of technologies designed to not only help operators better manage their power consumption - typically the biggest single opex cost for cellcos in emerging markets - but also to generate surplus power to serve villages covered by nearby cellular towers.
Emerging market cellcos face unique power management problems, as they often have to deploy base stations in areas where grid power is intermittent, unreliable or non-existent. Such sites run on a mix of grid power, diesel generators or battery backups.
Technologies developed by Acme Tele include a power interface unit that eliminates power fluctuations as rural base stations switch between different power sources, filterless A/C systems that don't require truck rolls for maintenance and cleaning, and a terminal management system that uses PCM materials to absorb cool air from the A/C and then cool the equipment at night when the power is turned off.
Acme Tele, which manages the sites where its equipment is installed, estimates that a cellco with 5,000 sites can save $40 million a year using its green tech, with power savings as high as 60% and an ROI in 15 months.
Moreover, says Manoj Upadhyay, managing director of India-based Acme Tele Power, energy saved can also be stored and used as a resource for rural villages.
'We can save about 2 kW per tower. Multiply that by 90,000 towers in India and 8,600 hours a year, and you'd have enough energy to power Singapore for a few days,' he told Telecom Asia. 'That's energy you can give to the rural areas.'
Acme Tele already has some big-name partners under its belt, including Nokia Siemens Networks and cellcos Vodafone, Bharti, Ericsson, Reliance and Airtel.
The next phase of the business will focus on alternative energy sources like solar, wind and hydrogen fuel cells.
Tellingly, Acme Tele is not spending much effort on biofuel technology as a green alternative to diesel fuel for base station generators. Last year, Idea Cellular launched an initiative to trial four rural base stations running on biofuel-powered generators with Ericsson and the GSMA Development Fund. However, earlier this year Idea Cellular CTO Anil Tandan reported that while the base stations worked fine, they weren't generating significant opex savings.
Part of the problem was the low availability of biofuel, which is due in part to difficulty in finding a sustainable source of biofuel that doesn't also cut into the world's food supply - especially at a time when food prices are already escalating. The issue has become so controversial that in May, UN food advisor Olivier de Schutter called for a halt on biofuel investment altogether.
Even putting the green benefits aside, saving on opex is a key incentive for cellcos in emerging markets and elsewhere to adopt power-saving technologies.
Acme Tele's Upadhyay readily admits cellcos will only go green if the business case makes sense.
'In India, ARPUs are already at $4 to $5, but the average cost per user is going up, not down, so operators need to cut costs wherever they can,' he said