Old copper networks: A gold mine for telcos?


A report from engineering firm TXO says that over $7 billion-worth of unused copper cabling could be recovered in the next decade

In most developed markets around the world, copper telecoms networks are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by much more effective fibre optic cables.

But while this copper is unlikely to find reuse in major telecoms networks, it is growing increasingly important in other sectors, such as for electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure. In fact, the value of copper has soared by over 50% compared to pre-pandemic levels, spurred by growing demand and reduced mining outputs. Experts predicting that demand for the metal will continue to increase steadily, increasing by more than 50% by 2040.

Now, a new report from engineering firm TXO has shed light on just how much money the telcos’ legacy copper networks could be worth. According to the report, the telecoms companies could expect to recover up to 800,000 tons of copper by 2035, worth up to $7 billion at today’s prices.

The scale of this opportunity is certainly not lost on the telcos, which have been accelerating their recovery efforts in recent years. Openreach in the UK, for example, says they will recover 200,000 tons of copper over the next 15 years.

Unearthing the cables and preparing them for sale can be a time-consuming and costly endeavour, but with copper prices this high it remains highly profitable.

“Recovering the copper cables generates a net income, even after the costs of extracting the cables and processing them,” Openreach told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.

It is worth noting that digging up network copper also represents a huge opportunity for thieves, one that costs telcos around the world millions of dollars every year. While this issue is shrinking as networks transition to fibre, it remains a major challenge in less developed markets.

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