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Now the dust has settled after MWC Barcelona 2019

Can 5G power consumption be minimized without hurting performance?
Read how 5G can be “green.”

Spirent at MWC Barcelona 2019
Spirent at MWC Barcelona 2019
Something that struck me while gazing upon walls and halls of 5G gear at Mobile World Congress last month was the impact new networks will have on the environment. When LTE was first launching, we were quite literally in a very different climate. Sustainability and energy efficiency was at best a nice-to-have. Today, it is increasingly mandated by everything from global treaties to local regulations.

One analyst predicted 5G would increase network energy consumption 150-170% by 2026 and that more than 90% of operators believe 5G will result in higher energy costs. Other industry forecasts are predicting a 2- to 3-fold increase in energy consumption versus today’s networks.

As described in a recent IEEE Spectrum article on the subject, one might assume that if 5G delivers 1,000 times as much data as today’s networks that it would also use 1,000 times as much energy. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. We should expect improvements in 5G energy efficiency as the technologies that support it mature and as operators put priority on counteracting increasing energy costs.

But how do we deliver better energy efficiencies this time around while still assuring performance? First let’s consider what is likely to be driving this consumption.
How much more power will 5G networks use?

As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, the promise of 5G is based on innovative, yet complex, new technologies. Much is reported about associated speeds and feeds – but predicted energy consumption? Well, that’s a little tougher to pin down.

  • Small cells: The Small Cell Forum predicts that 5G small-cell deployments will overtake 4G small cells by 2024, with a 13.1 million installed base of 5G or multimode small cells in 2025.
  • Massive MIMO antenna arrays: Massive MIMO arrays have many more antennas at each base station, which will increase 5G base station energy consumption.
  • A vast number of IoT devices: While IoT devices are expected to be low-power, Cisco predicts 50 billion IoT devices by 2020, an order of magnitude larger than the number of smartphones and tablets in use today. Some predict the sheer volume of M2M communications could reach around 45% of all internet traffic by 2022.
  • Edge data centers: The need to provide low latency-based services to power new industries, provide localized data privacy and reduce the cost of moving large volumes of data across the network introduces requirements for more localized data centers that demand additional power consumption and cooling.

Even though the energy consumed by each 5G small cell, MIMO array, and IoT device is low, the multiplier increases significantly given the scale of deployment, resulting in the increased energy consumption analysts predict.

How is mobile addressing 5G energy consumption?

Spirent at MWC Barcelona 2019
Samsung 5G base stations (smaller, lighter and less power consuming)
Mobile has come up with some cool tech to counterbalance expected energy consumption, although the results are somewhat unproven, especially as they relate to performance impacts. Here’s what we know is coming:

  • Base stations that can intelligently go into sleep-mode (ultra-lean design) when there are no active users;
  • Ability to flexibly toggle sites to be always available rather than always on;
  • Spatial multiplexing in antenna arrays to better share available power across many users;
  • Options to tune base stations to transmit at lower power levels if coverage density is not required;
  • Site/infrastructure sharing;
  • New power efficient 5G chipsets and antennas such as Qualcomm’s latest release the Snapdragon X55 and the QAT3555 Adaptive Antenna Tuning System.

In addition, 5G is enabling new industries that will inherently enable better environmental outcomes. For example, the autonomous vehicle is expected to reduce congestion, reduce stop/starting, provide more efficient driving with less Co2 emissions and reduce the car’s weight by removing legacy safety features.

Spirent at MWC Barcelona 2019
Qualcomm enabling C-V2X
The issue of 5G energy efficiency and cost reduction is one of the key areas being addressed by the GSMA’s Future Networks Programme. They have cited the value of Turkcell's remote infrastructure monitoring and management of power systems, air conditioning solutions and generators. Telefónica México uses solar technologies in base stations and Telefónica has committed at a global level that all of the company’s energy consumption will be 100% green by 2030. In Jordan, at least one mobile operator has contracted with a massive solar farm project to significantly reduce energy bills.

One way or another, there is going to be continuing industry focus and innovation directed at 5G energy consumption and costs. Expect an ongoing stream of innovations in this area.

Can 5G technologies be “green” and still perform?

An important question is whether these “green” innovations will still provide the performance capabilities and customer experiences that 5G is promising.

This is where test and assurance plays a pivotal role in testing and monitoring systems to ensure they perform as expected. Some tactics stakeholders can expect to employ on this front includes:

  • Emulation – Trying to evaluate the optimal network design and configuration to balance performance with energy efficiency requirements is increasingly difficult in a world of dynamic networks and resources. Having a software emulated parallel test network acting as a “digital-twin” plays a pivotal role in simplifying this complexity allowing for simple, cost effective and continuously repeatable evaluations.
  • Automation – By automating continuous processes, CSPs can accelerate lab and operational network tasks to deliver efficiencies in resource utilization and energy consumption.
  • Active Monitoring - Proactively testing the network using synthetic traffic generation provides a key capability for monitoring both performance and optimal network efficiency in dynamic, distributed networks.
  • Continuous cybersecurity auditing – Cybersecurity attacks such as largescale DDoS attacks can cause major fluctuations in energy consumption as system resources are strained to handle the system loads the attack generates. Continuously auditing/testing your security posture and implementing mechanism to efficiently and quickly handle these types of attacks helps reduce the associated energy impacts.

The stakes are too high for 5G to not to align with global sustainability trends and initiatives. The assurance planning happening now will ensure that next-gen network tech can have the best of both worlds as it keeps pace to meet lofty performance goals.

Download our Assure 5G white paper to learn more and check back for more 5G insights.

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