5G Carriers Face Energy Crunch

APR 06, 2022

Operators have an energy consumption problem on their hands that’s both exacerbated and diminished by 5G, according to ABI Research.

“Despite 5G consuming less power than 4G per unit of traffic, the overall energy consumption is still much higher, driven by more power-thirsty radios and network densification,” ABI Research analyst Fei Liu wrote in a new report.

The energy-efficiency gains and subsequent increases are astounding. Whereas 5G infrastructure can be 90% more energy efficient than 4G on a per bit basis, a typical 5G base station also requires three times more energy to provide the same coverage as a 4G network, according to Liu.

“5G energy consumption depends on radio configuration, hardware, and traffic load, and over 70% of the consumed energy is in the radio access network (RAN). A 5G RAN consumes up to 2.7 kilowatts of power with 64T64R massive MIMO configurations in a typical condition, whereas an LTE radio consumes about 0.8 kilowatts,” she wrote.

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Massive MIMO Poses Major 5G Energy Drain

Massive MIMO radios, power amplifiers, baseband process modules, and transceivers are the primary contributors to 5G networks’ power consumption, Liu added.

Massive MIMO is a crucial advancement in 5G network architecture and carriers have glommed onto the improvements the technology can bring worldwide. However, because of its heavy burden on energy, resulting in higher operating costs for carriers, massive MIMO radios should only be deployed in dense urban areas with high traffic demands, Liu concluded.

Meanwhile, because 5G requires higher processing performance than LTE, many basebands use beamforming, channel coding, digital pre-distortion, and crest factor reduction which creates a further strain on the energy grid. These components account for up to 50% of the total power consumption, according to Liu.

The introduction and continued development of gallium nitride-based power amplifiers help offset this energy cost burden on operators by increasing the power efficiency of massive MIMO radios by about 50%, she added. Huawei and ZTE get high marks from Liu on the gallium nitride front.

Liquid Cooling, New Silicon Offset 5G Energy Strain

Liquid cooling technology also presents a significant improvement because it’s 4,000 times more effective at transferring the heat generated by base stations, according to Liu.

“Liquid-cooled sites are also 30% lighter and 50% smaller than standard active air conditioning units, and no maintenance is required, offering operators significant savings,” she wrote. “Liquid cooling technology is still in an infancy stage, and Nokia is the leading vendor to offer liquid cool base station solutions across all network generations.”

Other advancements such as 7-nanometer chips and system-on-a-chip (SoC) also deliver faster computation power and lower active antenna unit power consumption.

The latest generation of chipsets for RAN equipment offer typical energy savings of 30% to 70%, according to Liu. ZTE’s 7-nanometer chipsets increase computation power fourfold and consume 30% less power while Ericsson’s custom silicon delivers energy savings from 30% to 60%, she wrote.

Nokia’s latest SoC-based RAN equipment reduces power consumption by up to 64% and Samsung’s new SoC developed with Marvell can save operators up to 70% on energy costs, according to Liu’s research.

“Network operators are demanding more energy-efficient equipment, and vendors must switch to new technologies, such as gallium nitride power amplifiers, liquid cooling, and more powerful chipsets to find a better balance between product performance and power consumption,” Liu concludes. “On the software side, vendors such as Nokia, Ericsson, ZTE, and many others have all released energy saving features in the RAN with an average savings of 20%.”

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