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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's all going Green in wireless

Over the last 6 months there has been a quite spectacular explosion in interest in "greentech" in the mobile industry. I'm chairing a panel session on Friday on Green Base Stations, and numerous vendors have recently pitched me with energy-saving concepts.

Now, some of this is undoubtedly "greenwash" PR spin, and there's also a lot of rampant self-interest driven by spiralling energy costs. If you have a base station off the electricity grid in an emerging country, and you're having painful bills sending truckloads of diesel out to it, I don't think that CO2 is the prime motivation for using solar cells, or at least some more-efficient infrastructure equipment.

But there's also a lot of serious work being done - aiming at tackling both environmental footprint and direct costs. I've seen very persuasive arguments advanced around some "quick wins" in newer variants of 3G base stations, which should drive continued investment despite any economic downturn. The immediate wins in Opex should justify the Capex - even in a recession. Recent discussions I've had with some operator strategists have underscored this.

I'd expect to see a lot more operators following Vodafone's example and declaring intent to cut its CO2 emissions. The specificity of its statements are much to be applauded, and should be a wake-up call to others lagging behind in evaluating their energy usage and its associated tangible & intangible costs.

But I would much prefer others to avoid some of the knee-jerk cliches that the green world often specialises in. Personally, I despise the word "sustainability" - it's a misanthropic and disheartening term, and one which should be expunged from the world's vocabulary. It's also a shame that as an advanced technology company, Vodafone cites just "renewable" energy as a proportion of its total, and fails to take the braver approach and give "renewable+nuclear".

I'm also not a fan of the oft-quoted Mr Jonathon Porritt, whose background in dubious quasi-political & anti-developmental organisations like Friends of the Earth make him a poor choice of bedfellow for a globalised company.

The problem I see is that it's still perceived as very awkward for companies to pitch themselves as advocates of "environmental capitalism". This needs to change.

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