Written by 

Amy Huettner

Marketing Communications Manager

In radio access networks, fibre optic cables are now firmly established as the material of choice for transmission of data up the cell tower, but copper remains a key part of bringing adequate power to the radio head on the top of the tower. In fact, 70% of world-wide copper produced is used for electrical and/or conductivity applications, according to the International Copper Alliance. 

Unfortunately, those thick cables may potentially be viewed as unsustainable because they contain a lot of copper. The use of large amounts of copper creates a large carbon footprint on a material level; however, HUBER+SUHNER has conducted an analysis with a Swiss mobile operator which suggests this doesn’t have to be the case. 

A different perspective on copper sustainability

For the powering of cell sites, power cables, like the state-of-the-art HUBER+SUHNER MASTERLINE product range ensure the right amount of power combined with a smooth and fast rollout. MASTERLINE Ultimate and Extreme is the innovative cabling system for remote radio installation, which is available in various forms i.e., fiber only, power only or hybrid. The hybrid and power version can have up to 24 copper conductors. 

Unsurprisingly, a carbon footprint life-cycle analysis of the product revealed that more than 70% of the CO2 footprint of the cable came from the copper, and the remaining 30% came from other materials and supply chain. Interestingly, a finding which outweighed the negatives of the CO2 footprint of the cable itself, were the environmental benefits that can be gained by reducing power loss in the overall operational footprint of the installation. The instinctive approach for most is to reduce the amount of copper material, but the analysis shows that by reducing the copper, power losses increase over time, which can be more damaging to the carbon footprint than it is to reduce copper.

Sustainable cable installation

As voltage levels drop in proportion to the length and diameter of the cable being used, the only ways to reduce these cable power losses is to increase the cross-section of the cable or to boost the power distribution by using voltage up-converters. Increasing the cross section of a cable can be achieved by using thicker conductors or by combining two feeds per active equipment (dual feed). 

Copper is not going to disappear as a major component of power transmission any time soon; however, reducing its environmental impact is imperative and can only be achieved if you consider the performance of the entire installation. For more information, please get in contact with your local HUBER+SUHNER representative.