A new study highlights the challenges to operators of network decommissioning programmes, as they seek to maximise value and minimise cost whilst reducing risk. Guy Daniels reports.
With around 90 per cent of wireline operators and over 60 per cent of wireless operators saying that they intend to decommission their legacy networks during the next five years, as they roll out new infrastructure and technologies, the challenge is to do so economically and without risk to their services.
A new study from consultancy firm PwC report suggests that operators are targeting network decommissioning primarily as a means of reducing operating costs. For example, those wireless operators who continue to operate 2G and 3G networks while deploying 4G technology, or wireline operators who are maintaining copper access while overlaying it with fibre. According to David Russell, UK telecoms leader at PwC:
“The roll out of new communications technologies means that some older networks are becoming outdated and underutilised, and therefore more expensive to operate. With continued pressure on overall profitability, these operating costs have to be tackled and decommissioning is often the only answer.”
Other factors cited as reasons for decommissioning included the need to improve the customer experience, the elimination of redundant or overlapping wireless networks, and the migration of traffic to more efficient networks.
Migrating traffic also paves the way for the potential re-farming of 2G and 3G spectrum for future use. While more than 90 per cent of operators who intend to decommission a wireless network said it would be a 2G technology, over a third also said they planned to decommission a 3G network.
For wireline operators, the growing use of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and Ethernet-over-fibre (EoF) is causing operators to re-evaluate the costs of operating and maintaining their legacy copper networks.
But how do operators actually go about the decommissioning process? How do they remove their installed infrastructure? About 75 per cent of respondents to the study said they plan to physically remove assets and equipment from their networks, with the vast majority hoping to sell or dispose of equipment, whilst the remaining 25 per cent said they plan to power down older networks and abandon them in place – a practice referred to as turndown.
In other words, a quarter of all operators have no interest in green practices and appear quite content with the environmental risk of leaving assets in place. Advocates of a low carbon economy and Green ICT have their work cut out. As Russell explains:
“They must analyse the costs of asset removal, transportation, processing, and storage together against the potential benefits of tax savings, reuse, resale, and recycling, in order to maximise the overall proceeds of network decommissioning.”
The whole decommissioning process can take an operator up to five years to complete (80 per cent said between three and five years or more). There’s a substantial amount of work to be done on lease modifications and an average network could contain millions of individual equipment assets.
Wireless operators have the quickest estimates for decommissioning, with 71 per cent saying it will take less than three year, compared with just 17 per cent of wireline operators. In fact, 33 per cent of wireline companies say it will take them more than five years to complete the process, against just 8 per cent of wireless firms.
Alarmingly, half of wireline operators and a third of wireless operators said that less than 50 per cent of their assets were catalogued and managed – so over half are untrackable.
It is increasingly common practice for equipment vendors to take on both deployment and decommissioning activities. More than two thirds of network operators indicated that they have already been approached by their primary equipment vendors about participating in this activity.
At the same time, demand for new telecom services continues to soar. PwC’s survey of telecom operators found that nearly half of all executives responding said their company had experienced network traffic increases of more than 50 per cent in the past year, while 30 per cent of wireless operators from around the world reported traffic increases of more than 150 per cent.
The PwC report, ‘Clearing the Way: The 2012 Outlook for Telecom Network Decommissioning’, was undertaken in March and April 2012, with the participation of 31 telecoms companies.
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