For telcos, the transition from 4G to 5G provides an exciting opportunity to deliver benefits for society such as advanced telemedicine, ultra-low-latency computing and video, and, eventually, autonomous vehicles. But achieving this vision presents an array of complex challenges. Existing networks must be expanded and rebuilt to meet bandwidth and latency demands. Network density is increasing with new types of sites that feature far more IT equipment than is used today.
Unless interventions are taken, 5G deployment and adoption will cause dramatic increases in energy
consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The telecom industry already accounts for nearly 1% of global carbon emissions. As telcos pursue growth through 5G, they must keep sight of sustainability issues that are key priorities for stakeholders and society at large.
STL Partners and Vertiv looked at this looming challenge in a report, Why Energy Management is Key to
5G Success. The report identifies 5 steps telcos can adopt to minimize 5G energy use while achieving growth goals.
5 Steps to Adopt
Step 1. Optimize network technology.
5G networks will run on millions of servers, mostly in smaller data centers at the edge. To control energy consumption, telcos must deploy hardware and software designed and operated for efficiency. Solutions include power-efficient network hardware, software-based Self-Optimizing Networks (SONs) and AI-based traffic prediction for augmented sleep modes.
Step 2. Ensure efficient facilities infrastructure.
- New edge data centers need high-performance power, ventilation and cooling systems, such as
energy-optimized uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems.
- On-site renewables are incorporated into the mix of energy sources.
- Legacy power infrastructure is retrofitted with high-efficiency rectifiers.
- Diesel generators are replaced by on-site renewables, and energy storage transitions from VRLA to lithium-ion batteries that operate at higher temperatures, reducing the energy and costs associated with cooling.
Step 3. Manage and measure infrastructure performance.
Use appropriate hardware and software to measure, monitor, manage, improve, and automate, the network. For instance, leverage granular data to improve remote monitoring and management of telco sites to improve energy efficiency. Monitoring temperature and humidity can maximize efficiency of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) of telco sites.
Remote monitoring ensures that operators can better target — and reduce — routine maintenance visits that increase carbon emissions. When field technicians are needed, they will have better insights about the nature of a given problem, which can help ensure that they complete a repair with 1 visit.
- When combined with predictive analytics, better monitoring reduces indoor cooling when outside temperatures are lower than usual.
- Marginal gains are substantial when aggregated across thousands of sites.
Step 4. Take a full life cycle perspective.
It’s critical to emphasize efficiency and long-term cost savings over short-term capital expenditures. For instance, procurement teams may shun high-performance rectifiers if lowest initial cost is the primary consideration. Yet the technology’s ability to drive operational savings is much more important.
Another example: consumer air-conditioning units often are used for cooling in many markets because they are more readily available. However, they consume at least 20% more energy, and increase carbon emissions compared to units designed specifically for network deployment.
In comparing options, extend projections for the total cost of ownership from 3 years to 5 years, and place greater emphasis on cost factors that drive inefficiency. These factors are typically overlooked or underestimated. If a full life cycle analysis is not practical, attach a theoretical penalty to lower-efficiency options.
Step 5. Partner effectively with others in the energy ecosystem.
There are a variety of options for fostering energy efficiency through partnerships. For instance, pursue innovative commercial agreements with suppliers, such as green-energy supply contracts through Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) if available in the country where you are operating. Telefonica has been able to reduce emissions significantly. (See more info at link #3 listed at the end of this article.)
Telcos can cooperate with the vendor community to optimize solutions and then standardize best practices to reduce complexity and to more easily scale improvements. Participation in industry-
level initiatives, such as Science-Based Targets for ambitious corporate climate action, demonstrates a telco’s commitment to sustainability and can help attract more companies to join in.
By establishing your company as a leader on energy efficiency, you can build credibility as a potential partner in driving sustainability. According to the STL Partners study, only 36% of end-user enterprises currently view telcos as credible partners in reducing carbon emissions. But the survey also found that 57.5% of end users believe telcos can establish credibility by enacting best practices.
For telco leaders, these 5 steps can guide company-wide practices that support energy and sustainability goals. Given the scale of 5G networks, small gains can make a major difference and help telcos meet the dual goals of growth through 5G and achieving the efficiency demands of today’s society.
Resources and Notes
3. Energy Savings as a Service (ESaaS). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j53-f_HcKKI&t=6s