Achieving Energy Efficient 5G Networks

Achieving Energy Efficient 5G Networks

Emanuel Kolta from GSMA Intelligence has called for operators to increase the focus on energy efficiency with more data collection, new energy partnerships and organization changes.

As the rollout of 5G networks starts, awareness of the need to make them more energy efficient and sustainable is rapidly increasing both at operators and vendors. While operators are under huge pressure both from their customers and investors to increase energy efficiency, vendors are increasing spending on R&D to bring more energy efficient solutions to market.

There have been a lot of announcements from operators recently about becoming carbon neutral, and there are a huge variety of solutions, from whole network optimization concepts to shutdown solutions. Kolta is optimistic about what can be achieved: “While it’s true that we need to transfer much more data, 5G is theoretically more energy efficient than previous wireless technologies. Moreover, there are options such as focusing energy to one spot via beam forming, shutting down legacy architecture, battery solutions, where operators can buy energy during the night when it’s surplus and use it during the day when there’s demand.”

According to Kolta, speaking at Developing Telecoms’ Making 5G Sustainable panel discussion, emerging markets must be a top priority for sustainability. This is because they are the areas with the highest growth potential, both in terms of penetration and data growth. To illustrate this he cites the examples of Southeast Asia and Africa where battery solutions are huge: “… it’s not necessarily 5G related but it’s very resource-intensive to refuel generators at hard-to-reach sites. Solar became an option recently with the rapidly decreasing price of photovoltaic panels, which led to operators and tower companies considering it feasible in emerging regions.”

The key question is how can the telecoms industry make this growth process sustainable? Energy consumption will increase with more technology deployment, but the benefit of that will be that we will enable every single industry sector to become more and more efficient.

Kolta thinks the telecoms industry needs to do things differently in three area: “… I think there are a few things here. Firstly we need to measure, we need to harvest as much data as we as we can. And I think this is critical because most of the operators cannot have base station level and equipment level information about energy consumption. So to identify these black holes we need to measure and we need to harvest as much data as we can and obviously, later on AI and machine learning can use this data - so a lot of sensors [will be needed].”

Secondly Kolta believes the industry needs a whole new set of partnerships: “We need to start pushing partnerships between telcos and the energy sector because we have a lot of telco experts and a lot of energy experts, so we need to start opening up new partnerships.” Kolta sees the role of forums to evangelise this new way of working with energy companies, solar panel companies and others.

Finally Kolta believes it may be time for operators to rethink their organisational structure. Most operators globally don’t have a specific department for energy: “Operators have a CTO, a CFO, a CMO and CIO, but no one actually covers energy use and sustainability. So we need to set up a whole new part of the organizations with its own budget, and their own high level leader, which will be just responsible for their KPIs and for their tangible goals [in the area of sustainability].”

In the current structure Kolta believes the different silos cannot cover energy efficiency because it involves both some technological parts and finance. A whole new department with a different unique leader and tangible goals will make a huge difference and enable operators to focus on energy efficiency.

Emanuel Kolta is a Senior Analyst at GSMA Intelligence where he provides research and market analysis on 5G digital transformation and radio access network infrastructure. Emanuel also helps identify economic benefits for mobile networks, which are related to innovations that unlock emerging business opportunities and improves operators’ efficiency. Prior to joining GSMA Intelligence, Emanuel was a management consultant and held various analyst roles in telecommunication. Emanuel holds an MSc degree in International Economics and Business from University of Groningen, and a BSc degree in Applied Economics from the Corvinus University of Budapest.


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