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How to Build and Maintain a “Good Pipe”? – Continuously Improving Energy Efficiency to Support the Sustainable Development

by Guang Yang | Aug 08, 2022

My previous blogs discussed how operators build and maintain a “Good Pipe” from the aspects of network quality and user experience. I would like to continue the discussion from a sustainable perspective, i.e., how to build and maintain a “Green Pipe.”

Carbon Reduction – A key theme toward 2030

Carbon reduction is one of the key economic and social development goals toward 2030. The European Green Deal raised the 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, including emissions and removals, to at least 55% compared to 1990. China’s 2030 climate targets aim to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The United States, in April 2021, announced a new target to achieve a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.

Currently, the telecom industry’s overall energy usage accounts for 2–3% of global energy consumption, according to the GSMA.  Therefore, telecom operators must actively participate in the carbon reduction journey. So far, more than 80 telecom service providers have committed to take action to reduce their emissions, including most leading operators such as AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Verizon, Vodafone, etc.

Energy efficiency crucial for operators’ business success

In addition to the commitment to social responsibility, telecom operators also realize the importance of energy-saving for their business success. Because the energy consumption constitutes 20-40% of network OPEX, improving network energy efficiency is crucial for keeping telecom operators’ OPEX at a reasonable level, particularly considering the runaway inflation in 2022. Just as pointed out by Vodafone, ‘the best MWh is that which isn’t consumed.’

Managing the energy consumption of communications sites, particularly cell sites in the mobile network, plays a critical role in improving the overall energy efficiency of a telecoms network, as Communication sites, mainly cellular base stations, account for 45 to 70 percent of the total energy consumption of a telecoms network, according to a Huawei study. Vodafone also reports that base station sites use 73% of the total energy that Vodafone Group consumes.

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Therefore, leading operators are actively introducing technical solutions to improve the energy efficiency of cell sites and radio access networks. These solutions often include:

  • Optimizing Power Amplifier Design
  • Extreme Large Antenna Array
  • Cooling and Power Supply Enhancements
  • Highly Integrated Cell Site Equipment
  • Traffic Pattern based Site Energy Saving
  • Coordination between Carriers, Cells, and Technologies

All the solutions can effectively improve the energy efficiency of radio access networks. But operators still need a holistic approach to achieve the carbon reduction target.

A holistic action plan is required.

Both theoretical analysis and field deployments have proven that 5G can significantly improve the energy efficiency of mobile networks. For example, Orange predicted that “5G technologies are expected to divide the energy consumption per gigabit transported by a factor of 10 compared to 4G once they reach maturity by 2025, and then by a factor of 20 by 2030.”. Telefonica also stated that activating new Power Savings Features (PSF) for 5G had demonstrated potential savings of between 20% and 30% in consumption during low traffic hours.

As mobile data traffic demands continue to surge, accelerating customer migration to 5G is critical for mobile operators to improve overall network energy efficiency. The more traffic carried by 5G, the higher the network energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, many leading operators have introduced renewable energy supplies into their networks. Since July 2021, Vodafone’s entire European operations – including mobile and fixed networks, data centers, retail, and offices – have been 100% powered by electricity from renewable sources. Vodafone is also committed to achieving the same step-change in Africa by 2025. Orange has signed a Corporate Power Purchase Agreement (CPPA) with Total, which will supply Orange with 100 GWh a year of renewable electricity over 20 years. China Mobile has also deployed wind or solar-powered base stations to lower the demand for fossil fuel energy. In the case of the China Mobile Jiangsu branch, solar-powered 5G base stations have reduced electricity consumption by 24%. Renewable energy can reduce operators’ carbon emissions from the supply source.

More important, telecom operators can leverage advanced ICT technologies to help diverse industries to reduce carbon emissions. A GeSI study report shows that ICT has the potential to enable a 20% reduction of global CO2e emissions by 2030. Meanwhile, the ICT industry will produce just around 2% of global carbon emissions by 2030. It will significantly contribute to the sustainable development of the environment, economy, and society. As pointed out by my colleague Waseem Haider in his recent blog, “5G networks will play a big role in helping industries reduce their emissions. Across industries, 5G networks will enable more downstream use cases because they are able to support more devices, which will create a multiplier effect when the network is used at scale.”

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In summary, a “Good Pipe” should be a “Green Pipe.” The continuously improving energy efficiency can help telecom operators keep their energy consumption at a reasonable level while their networks carry growing data traffic. At the same time, network connectivity can also be an enabler to help industries achieve green development. To meet the growing demand for high performance connectivity, a balance between improving network energy efficiency and guaranteeing user experience should be carefully kept. Any solutions for improving energy efficiency should not be at the expense of basic user experience. Therefore, telecom operators must take a full-stack approach to improve network energy efficiency from an end-to-end perspective. Meanwhile, a holistic evaluation methodology for the “Green Pipe” should be developed to consider both the network energy consumption and the contribution to the overall carbon reduction of the connected world. For more detailed discussions, please access the joint whitepaper of Huawei and Strategy Analytics: GUIDE to the Future

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