Operators think the circular economy is important but flawed

According to a survey of 61 network operators across the world, the circular economy is ‘important’ but many listed some pretty fundamental concerns.

According to a survey form TXO, which sells telecom network hardware and asset management services, 90% of the operators believe the circular economy is important to their organisation and 89% say it’s already part of their current business strategy, however only 44% plan to buy pre-owned equipment over the next five years – which is basically what the circular economy means – and they have some other concerns too.

Four barriers to entry were provided by the survey – 33% thought pre-owned telecom network equipment is less reliable than new, 49% said the circular economy supply chain is too complex, 21% said pre-owned equipment is more expensive, and 33% said there isn’t enough information about how to get involved in the first place.

75% of operators said that they will recycle equipment over the next five years (which could mean a lot of things), while 52% said they’ll be repairing equipment, 49% will resell it and 44% will buy refurbished equipment.

“It’s clear telecom operators understand the benefits of the circular economy, yet penetration is still fairly low due to four industry barriers which are in fact myths,” said Darren Pearce, Group CEO, TXO. “Debunking these myths are key steps we need to take to encourage more operators to give pre-owned equipment the same consideration as new, as well as refurbish, resell or recycle their existing equipment. Furthermore, as operators face pressure to upgrade their networks to meet internal and government targets, the circular economy enables them to accelerate network roll-out as well as reduce their carbon footprint, minimise waste, reduce costs and ease pressures on supply chains.

“And while mobile operators have already seen success recycling a huge volume of mobile phones as part of the circular economy, expanding their recycling capabilities to network equipment is an obvious next step. But we need more action to happen faster. Only then do we have any chance of achieving a greater circularity in telecoms and reaching our sustainability targets.”

The circular economy is similar to other pillars of green initiatives such as renewable energy in that while all sane people are aligned on the idea that doing less harm to the planet is a good thing, some practical applications of theory have shortcomings at this current stage of technology – and you can choose to be honest about those or not. Wind power is great while the wind is blowing, but when it isn’t it isn’t. You can be for curbing the impact we have on the planet as well as recognising this.

The CEO of TXO quoted above categorises what telcos see as barriers to entry as ‘myths’, but that’s an easy thing to say when you’re not ultimately is responsible for carrying out the sort of large-scale operational changes being discussed. While it seems almost all operators are generally positive about the idea of the circular economy or recycling equipment (and again, it’s easy to say yes to a vague question such as ‘should humans be less wasteful?’), when you are in the business of, for example, setting up cutting edge 5G small cells into cities, launching satellites into space, or burrowing the earth to lay brand new fibre optic cable, the ability to which you can lean on a second hand market may be somewhat limited at this moment in time.


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