Thursday, December 9

The succulent and ecological copper business: Telefónica obtains 131 million with the recycling of cables | Economy

Copper cable bundles in an old telephone exchange.
Copper cable bundles in an old telephone exchange.

Telefónica is making progress in its plan to replace the old facilities that provided telephone service through a copper cable network with the most modern fiber optic network. The substitution not only has technological and ecological benefits – fiber is much more efficient and consumes less energy – but also chrematistic: the operator obtained an extra income of 131 million in 2020 with the sale and recycling of copper and other materials from the old central offices and the network used for fixed telephony and the Internet connection by ADSL, according to company data to which this newspaper has had access.

The Spanish multinational reached the milestone of 1,000 closed copper plants in the first half of 2021, which means continuing to advance in its digitalization and transformation plan of the network to offer the best connectivity, which plans to offer fiber optics throughout the Spanish territory in 2025.

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The commitment is part of the so-called Digital Pact announced a year ago by the president of Telefónica, José María Álvarez-Pallete, for the modernization and digitization of companies, SMEs, the self-employed and public administrations, and which also includes the deployment of the new network of 5G mobile telephony in most of the territory.

Telefónica launched a plan in 2016 for the closure of copper plants and the expansion of fiber optics. Since that date, it has disassembled 65,000 tons of cable, recycled 7,140 tons of waste electrical and electronic equipment (known as RAEEs) and has reused more than 128,000 cards in its network.

Copper has become in recent years a highly appreciated material by the industry. Its price has also skyrocketed in recent months after the pandemic due to growing demand from China and the shortage of production led by Chile, in whose main mines there have been strikes in recent weeks in demand for better wages.

Energy saving

No less relevant is the energy savings achieved with the measure. Fiber to the home (FTTH) is 85% more energy efficient at customer access than the copper network. The renovation has saved 1,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) since its inception, which means avoiding the emission into the atmosphere of 355,000 tons of CO₂, equivalent to the carbon captured by six million trees.

Also, it takes a lot less fiber to reach more customers than with the old copper network. A 2,400-pair copper harness can serve 2,400 customers, while a 256-fiber fiber cable serves a total of 16,384 users, according to estimates made by the company itself. In terms of space reduction, a fiber exchange serves the same number of accesses served from four copper exchanges and fiber access technology occupies only 15% of the space of copper access.

Telefónica defends that the process of closing the copper plants entails a boost to the circular economy, based on reduction, reuse and recycling. The energy and space savings together with the recycling of components and the environmental improvement that implies the shutdown of disused technologies also allows the company to advance in its strategic environmental commitment of net zero emissions by 2025.

Spain is at the forefront in Europe in fiber optic connections. At the end of last June, the number of subscribers exceeded 12.1 million, which represents an increase of 1.4 million lines with this technology compared to the same month in 2020, according to the latest report from the National Markets Commission and Competition (CNMC). This increase in fiber lines contrasts with the loss of 700,000 lines with ADSL technology, which uses the copper network for its connection.

The growth potential is still very great, because only the four main operators (Telefónica, Orange, Vodafone and MasMóvil) have a fiber network coverage that reaches 50 million real estate units (homes, premises and offices). The most extensive is that of Telefónica, which reaches 26.1 million households.

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