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Mobile Network Uptick Spurs Sustainability Challenges

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Paul Korzeniowski's picture
B2B Content producer, Self-employed

Paul is a seasoned (basically old) freelance B2B content producer. Through the years, he has written more than 10,000 items (blogs, news stories, white papers, case studies, press releases and...

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  • Apr 24, 2023

The added capabilities that 5G mobile networks offer utilities come at a high price: a negative impact on the environment. The recent adoption of these networks is spurring dramatic increases in energy usage requirements. More efficient designs and adopting renewable energy to support these networks are steps to lessen the negative impact.

5G is the latest wireless cellular network option. This fifth networking iteration not only increases speeds but also was built to support the Internet of Things and edge computing applications, which are becoming quite popular.

To carry more traffic, the network technology relies on base stations equipped with new millimeter-wave base stations, virtualization radio access network (vRAN), massive multiple input and multiple output (MIMO) antenna. These devices support sophisticated functions, like beamforming, carrier aggregation, dynamic spectrum sharing, network slicing, edge servers, and gateways.

The 5G Build Out is Underway

The total installed base of 5G or multimode small cells is expected to reach 13.1 million in 2025, according to the Small Cell Forum. Because these systems offer more sophisticated features, they require more energy. Massive-MIMO antennas alone will need an additional 1,000 watts of power per sector.

Consequently, a 5G base station is expected to consume much more power than a 4G base station. In 2020, the 5G energy footprint, including network infrastructure and end devices, topped 19.8 million tons oil equivalent (Mtoe) per year. By 2030, consumption is expected to grow to 51.3 Mtoe – a number equivalent to all the energy consumed throughout Sweden during the year, according to ABI Research.

Vendors are aware of the environmental problems and are trying to lessen the impact. The Open Radio-Access Networks Alliance has been devising ways to reduce 5G energy consumption. They have demonstrated solutions that shrink power usage by about 10%.

Coupling deployments with renewable energy is another step that suppliers and utilities are examining as they roll out new 5G networks. However, such work is in a nascent stage of development. As a result, energy companies may need to take on a great deal of the complex development and system integration work and fill in a number of important missing pieces.

5G offers utilities a robust wireless networking solution, so interest is high. However, the new network casts a large energy and carbon footprint, so, work is underway to make it more environmentally friendly.


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