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Is a sustainable 5G network a distant dream?

Jun 10, 2019 | Sustainability

Amidst all the fuss on the US-Chinese trade war and the company that has been caught up in the middle- Huawei of course, we are looking at a race towards the global domination of the next generation of communication infrastructure. 5G has been on the hype train for the past couple of years. South Korea has already implemented its first network, albeit with a few individuals and other countries are racing to reap the benefits from the technology.

We all know about the quintessential energy curve as generations pass by. The average consumption or demand for energy rises as the public adopts the technology. As shown in the chart below, the energy demand is expected to rise for 5G if it is business-as-usual.

Image result for 5g energy performance
Ericsson’s attempt to re-think 5G energy performance

While companies like Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia compete in improving the energy efficiency of their 5G infrastructure, the current trends show that the upgraded infrastructure will demand more energy at least until 2025. According to Zhengmao Li, EVP of China Mobile- the biggest telecom operator in the world,

  • 5G needs 3 times the number of base stations to provide the same coverage given by LTE networks.
  • Power consumption of a 5G base station is 3 times higher than that of LTE.
  • Also, 5G costs 3 times higher.

What does this mean to its overall energy consumption? Well, considering both the short range and the consumption, 5G base stations will consume 9 times the energy compared to LTE ones. This will cause more stress on the contemporary energy systems that mostly rely on non-renewable sources. The unplanned rise in demand is always met with conventional generators running on fossil fuels.

Credits: Larocca Solutions- Arimas

So far, we discussed the important drawbacks in 5G networks with respect to energy consumption but it also saves a lot of energy indirectly. How so? According to Robert Keith from A10 Networks, a number of energy efficiency initiatives run in the 5G bloodline including but not limited to:

  • Sleep mode on base station (idling)
  • Reduced latency (speed) and Higher data throughput
  • Data compression during transmission
  • Separation of user and control traffic (thus, reducing congestion)
  • Full duplex transmission (Using the same frequency to send and receive data, thus improving efficiency by up to 40%)
  • Reduced distance to base stations (Hence, less energy is spent in communicating)

Even after all of the energy efficiency measures, the most advanced 5G networks like that of Huawei still have a long way to go in terms of energy efficiency. The technology also needs to account for the indirect energy consumption include the rise in energy consumption due to IoT networks and faster internet speed. However, the industry is optimistic on the consistent improvement in energy efficiency witnessed by telecom industry. As renewable energy entrepreneurs, we can work together towards a greener power sector that helps the human civilisation progress towards a state of energy conscious and sustainable development.