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Minimizing base stations carbon footprint

(Posted June 2022) Being connected comes at a price. With IoT and connected smart cars, the introduction of 5G technology means more data travelling across the world’s networks, which means we are using ever greater amounts of energy. That, of course, leads to a larger carbon footprint at exactly the time the world needs to make it much smaller.

According to Informa Tech data (shown in Figure 1), global consumer data traffic on cellular and fixed broadband networks will grow by 29% annually from 2018 to 2024. That means that total data traffic will have increased from about 1.3 million PB in 2018 to 5.8 million PB in 2024 (equivalent to more than 6,700 photos  uploaded per person per day worldwide). The total traffic on cellular networks is expected to grow nearly fivefold over the same period.

To comply with the Paris Agreement, the ICT industry should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% between 2020 and 2030. Easier said than done with all the ongoing data growth.

Network operators are driving the demand for more energy-efficient equipment, and telecom equipment makers are stepping up to deliver.

5G is part of the solution.  It is fundamentally designed to transport far more data, faster, and more economically than 4G.  Per bit, 5G consumes a fraction of the energy of 4G.

Telecom sites account for the bulk of carriers' energy consumption. In an equipment room, only 60% of the power used is for the main communications equipment, with the remaining 40% used for heat dissipation. Simplifying these sites by making them smaller, increasing their capacity (high density multi band solutions with integrated antennas) means we can replace equipment rooms with outdoor cabinets and outdoor cabinets with poles. This can result in site energy efficiencies that can be as high as 90%.

Switching from electricity generated by conventional energy sources to renewable energy is a key strategy to reducing energy costs and carbon footprints. More and more, antenna sites are fitted with solar panels.

Networks are also becoming less passive, using AI to balance output to fluctuating demands at different times of the day and for high traffic events. In addition, when mobile traffic is low, some frequency bands of base stations can be temporarily disabled. This conserves energy without compromising network performance or user experience. 

5G enables energy savings in other industries. A GSMA report called ‘The Enablement Effect’ stated that “mobile technologies had a 1:5 enablement ratio compared to the footprint of the industry in 2015”. This means that one kWh of power consumed by mobile networks will lead to a 5-kWh reduction in electricity used by other industries.

See how Vodafone and Huawei worked together to reduce their carbon footprint in Karpathos, Greece!