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According to a recent Reuters report, 2024 could be the world’s hottest year as extreme heat continues to break temperature records, posing a major threat to the telecommunications industry.

Global connectivity is the driving force that empowers businesses and economies, unites people regardless of geographical location, and enables the exchange of knowledge and ideas that foster advancements. The advent of new technology and innovations in various fields has led to greater heights that past generations have only dreamed of succeeding.

These technological breakthroughs have improved efficiency, productivity, and convenience, breaking boundaries to create a more intelligent world.

However, global connectivity and technological equipment may be at risk due to the uncertainties in our climate.

As technology progresses, the world continues to become warmer, triggering global operational delays. Heatwaves have gone beyond affecting human health by now disrupting worldwide businesses that rely heavily on power and technology.

Heatwaves are now hotter and more frequent due to global warming. But how can it pose a major threat to the telecommunications industry?

Data Centers: The Epicenter of Concern                                                                                  

Data centers are massive and highly secure facilities that house computers and serve as powerhouses for numerous online services. Its reliability is paramount for the continuous and secure operation of web services. These computers generate significant heat, making cooling systems vital to regulate airflow and maintain proper data center functions.

Infrastructure, including data centers, typically have temperature thresholds, and some may not be designed to endure extreme heat. These cooling systems regulate the immense amount of heat emitted by the servers and other data center equipment. Intense heatwaves push data centers to their limits, causing malfunctions in the cooling systems. When they fail, the data centers become overheated, resulting in website outages that significantly impact business operations, including the world’s largest telecommunication companies.

In 2022, the United Kingdom experienced a record-breaking heatwave, with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, Google and Oracle's data centers in London suffered overheating and cooling system failures. To prevent further damage to their machines, both technology giants had to go offline.

These technology giants have state-of-the-art data center facilities. However, their cooling capacities were unable to withstand the extreme heat. If not addressed, heatwaves can significantly affect access to emails and web services.  

The outage led to disruptions in Google’s Cloud and the inability to access Oracle’s Cloud Infrastructure resources in the affected region.  Additionally, websites hosted on WordPress were impacted by the Google outage in Europe.

X’s (formerly Twitter) operations in Sacramento also suffered an unprecedented outage in the same year when extreme heatwaves struck the area. The significant damage from the heat forced X to shut down all physical equipment, highlighting the vulnerability of data centers to extreme weather conditions.

Major social media platforms, such as X, profoundly rely on data centers to keep up with their operations. If the data centers of these major platforms fail, there would be a significant risk of data loss.

Moreover, iiNet, an internet service provider based in Western Australia faced an outage in 2015 due to a heatwave. Thousands went offline as emails and corporate websites were unable to be accessed.

Related: Engine of Change: The Essence of Data Centers

The Impact of Heatwaves on Operations

Overheating, caused by heatwaves, is just one of the risks the telecommunications industry should be wary of. Technology infrastructure is also at risk as heatwaves become more frequent. Moreover, damaged information technology (IT) equipment may cause power outages and result in a chain reaction, starting with connectivity issues and ranging to organizational disruptions.

Furthermore, heatwaves can also impact the network operating costs of telecommunication companies. In areas where extreme heat is prevalent, the fuel costs for generators and the installation of more cooling systems would, undoubtedly, mean increased expenditures for telecom operators. Investments in efficient cooling systems and backup solutions to warrant uninterrupted services would further contribute to additional financial costs. Essential digital infrastructure upgrades are critical as well to combat extreme weather challenges since some have aged already.

In recent reports, air-conditioning expenses in telecom towers in India contribute to a 3 to 5% increase in power and fuel costs due to rising temperatures, potentially affecting the ongoing tower installations of telecom operators like Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone Idea. High heat exposure also hinders manpower during telecom tower installations, which are particularly critical in the ongoing 5G network expansion worldwide.

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Cool Tech Fighting the Heatwave

As heatwaves become increasingly prevalent, telcos and techcos have identified the need to implement strategies to maintain productivity and combat the heat.

For instance, Huawei's next-generation OTN—the DC-centric Kepler platform—uses innovative heat dissipation technology to reduce power consumption per gigabit by 65%. This platform supports the deployment of DC equipment rooms with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of less than 1.2 and uses an intelligent computing kernel to enhance autonomous driving capabilities.

Additionally, Huawei deployed iCooling at their cloud data center in Langfang, China, resulting in an 8% reduction in PUE and significant annual power cost savings. This deployment is expected to save six million kWh of electricity annually, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about three million kilograms.

Nokia has also addressed overheating issues, particularly with 5G User Equipment (UE), which can sometimes drop 5G connections due to excessive heat, leading to poor user experiences and hindering 5G technology growth. To mitigate this, Danial Mausoof, Head of Sales for Mobile Networks, Nokia Middle East and Africa, explained that Nokia has introduced energy-saving measures such as intelligent switch-off of unused resources with Micro DTX, cell switch-off, MIMO muting, and deep sleep modes, achieving up to 15% energy savings.

Hyperscaler data centers are being established in Arctic regions for effective natural cooling. Countries with abundant renewable electricity, such as Canada, Finland, and Sweden, are also seen as suitable locations for building data centers.

Interestingly, start-ups like Subsea Cloud propose placing servers 3,000 meters deep in the ocean to enhance physical security and reduce cooling costs. Other underwater data center projects, such as China's Highlander and Microsoft's Natick, use gas-filled vessels in shallow coastal waters to save energy and provide quick cloud services to coastal communities. Microsoft's Natick project, for example, was tested in the Northern Isles off the coast of Scotland's Orkney Island and demonstrated significant energy savings.

By adopting these innovative strategies, telcos and data centers are better equipped to handle the challenges posed by increasing temperatures, ensuring the reliability and efficiency of their networks.

Also Read: Data Centers are Mushrooming. But What’s Keeping them Cool?

Final Thoughts

Heatwaves have exposed the vulnerability of technology companies, thus, addressing concerns about extreme environmental fluctuations is crucial to sustain network reliability and performance.

Heatwaves can cause major damage to businesses that rely heavily on information technology services. Technology companies must ensure that maintaining their data centers is a priority, especially since unanticipated environmental changes have become recurrent. 

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat will undoubtedly damage electronics and technology but companies can mitigate the risk by ensuring ample cooling supplies are distributed to their data centers.

In an uncertain world, evolution is obligatory to meet present and future demands to drive economic competitiveness. As the unprecedented surge in heatwaves grows, preventive and secure measures are imperative to avoid global connectivity disruptions.

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