Orange, Nokia team on using refurbished RAN gear

Orange and Nokia are partnering up to increase the use of refurbished radio access network equipment, in an aim to reduce waste and increase sustainability as both target environmental goals, alongside controlling costs for economic savings.

Nokia will offer all Orange subsidiaries reconditioned RAN equipment (through procurement JV BuyIn) spanning technology generations, under the new commitment. Orange and Nokia said with the contract they hope to provide “a competitive and reliable alternative to network operators,” which meet equipment reliability thresholds of EU and ITU recommendations and directives.

Reusing equipment can help lower carbon emissions compared to manufacturing all new elements, and the partners said there are medium and long-term plans to expand to other network parts in addition to RAN.

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It covers RAN equipment across technology generations, including 3G/4G/5G, according to an Orange spokesperson. Orange’s OSCAR program (more on that below) addresses gear less than 4 years old “and we need Nokia to be prepared to run the same processes with new 5G equipment as soon as they will be able to re-use,” the spokesperson noted, such as with network updates or RAN sharing.

Orange had already set plans in place to reduce its carbon footprint and create a mechanism for savings with a more predictable supply and demand environment by allowing the resale or reallocation of overstock through an internal marketplace that offers reused dismantled network components a new home. It’s part of a larger program dubbed OSCAR, which debuted in May and has the ultimate environmental aim to help reach net zero carbon goals in 2040. As part of OSCAR, Orange said that by 2025 its IT infrastructure, networks, and data centers will all operate using more existing equipment. The program also contributes to Orange’s target of EUR 1 billion in net cost savings by 2023.

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The signed agreement with Nokia is the first major contract commitment towards Orange’s circular economy vision for its policy on procuring network infrastructure – with the option to purchase new gear alongside reusing existing equipment or using more reconditioned equipment where it can.  

Orange plans to prioritize reusing equipment dismantled from its own networks, but when the needed equipment isn’t available from within the Orange Group, Nokia will supply the operator with gear coming from other locations.  

Functional but unneeded equipment within a market is offered first to Orange operators in other countries (Orange operates in 26 countries), but if there’s no interest then Nokia has the option for buy-back or it will be resold to external partners, according to the operator.

"We are proud to share our common vision of the circular economy with Nokia, a vision where environmental exemplarity supports sustainable value creation. This mutual understanding leads today to this first major contractual step forward for the Orange Group and its subsidiaries, with a positive environmental impact for our two groups," said Ramon Fernandez, delegate CEO, executive director of Finance, Performance and Development at Orange.

As part of OSCAR, under a RAN network sharing agreement Orange Spain and Orange Belgium are able to resell equipment they decommission on Orange’s internal marketplace platform for use in the company’s other operating countries. Orange said the program saves tens of millions of euros each year while reducing carbon footprint.

At launch, the resale of refurbished equipment was only open to Orange subsidiaries, but Fernandez has cited intent to extend the marketplace to other operators.

“Our main suppliers, which are strategic partners for Orange, have agreed to accompany us on the path of this major transformation. The implementation of this new ecosystem is not easy and requires complex negotiations,” said Béatrice Felder, CEO of BuyIn (the procurement alliance of Orange and Deutsche Telekom through which Nokia is offering refurbished gear to Orange subsidiaries), in a video introducing the OSCAR program earlier this year. “It’s a deep transformation of the economic industrial model for each of the players. A transformation that may take several years.”

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On the Nokia side, the vendor has climate goals to cut emissions by 50% from 2019 to 2030, with reductions in both Nokia products used by customers as well as the company’s own operations.

Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia, said in the announcement that the new Orange agreement helps both of those aims.

“Committing to circularity takes us another step closer to achieving our own climate goals, as well as supporting our customers in achieving theirs,” Uitto stated. “Digitalization reduces waste, reuse extends product life, and through this we are able to realize the full value of our products.”