The Challenging Balance in the Sustainability of Telecommunications due to the High Demand for Mobile Data

Current commercial strategies in telecoms would not respond to user needs but would be designed to increase both consumption and prices.

Despite advances in energy use in telecommunications, sustainability in this sector requires a much greater effort to decarbonise at a global level, according to Somos Conexión, a telephony and internet cooperative. Telecommunications currently contributes to 1.4% of global carbon emissions, generating approximately 330 million tonnes of CO2 and consuming 4% of global electricity.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals a 17% increase in mobile data consumption during 2022, led by countries such as Latvia, Finland, Austria, Lithuania and Iceland, with monthly consumption ranging from 42 to 24 gigabytes, three times the average for OECD countries. This exponential increase is supported by colossal infrastructures, including 900,000 kilometres of undersea fibre-optic cables and 100 million servers in data centres. The largest of these centres demand up to 100 megawatts of power.

Conscious and responsible use

Somos Conexión argues that it is feasible to alleviate the environmental pressures associated with telecommunications through a more conscious and responsible use of technology. Suggested measures include reducing screen time, consuming lower quality multimedia content, opting for broadband connections and limiting the sending of images or videos via messaging applications.

Mercè Botella, founding partner of Somos Conexión, highlights the need for infrastructures capable of meeting the growing demand for data. Although this demand may seem intangible, it puts significant pressure on natural resources. Botella argues that most consumers do not require 1 gigabyte speeds or unlimited mobile data plans. In this sense, he emphasises that current strategies do not truly respond to users’ needs but are designed to increase both consumption and prices.