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Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Mobile Communications Networks

In a world grappling with the significant challenge of climate change, the telecommunication sector emerges as a pivotal player in the quest for sustainability. With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report on the 1.2°C global temperature rise serving as an urgent call to action, the ICT sector must aim for a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This 5G Americas white paper provides in-depth analysis of the key strategies and technologies essential for energy-efficient operation of mobile networks.

The paper outlines key strategies and technologies that could have a sizable impact on our planet and society, marking a pivotal step in our journey towards a sustainable future. It emphasizes the crucial balance of environmental, social, and economic factors in the telecommunications sector, and advocates for separating data growth from energy usage, bridging the digital divide for widespread internet access, and managing the economic aspects of network energy costs. The paper delves into strategies like advanced RAN techniques, network slicing, virtualization, and application layer optimizations, alongside exploring site solutions for renewable energy integration.

Key topics covered in this latest 5G Americas white paper also include:

  • Technologies driving energy efficiency in the RAN (Techniques in time domain, frequency domain, spatial domain, power domain and role of AL/ML as a key enabler in sustainability)
  • System architecture solutions for energy efficiency
  • Deployment and architecture strategies for network energy saving
  • Applications and services energy efficiency techniques
  • Site solutions based on renewable energy

Also available in our shorter briefing paper format.

MNOs and vendor partners are aggressively targeting sustainability, focusing on reducing carbon footprints and optimizing energy consumption, especially for 5G networks. Innovations in dynamic energy-saving techniques, cloud-native frameworks, and diverse network deployment strategies are crucial in this endeavor.

The paper underscores the importance of energy efficiency in 5G and future mobile generations, urging operators and vendors to adopt existing technical capabilities and invest in new, optimized technologies. This approach is key not only for sustainable network operations but also in enabling industries like manufacturing and agriculture to achieve greater energy efficiency through various IoT solutions.

Innovation is required for the telecommunications industry to address sustainability and energy efficiency challenges. Many network operators are aiming for Net Zero emissions through energy-efficient operations and renewable energy integration.

Executive Summary

Sustainability is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges of our time and affects the telecommunication sector as much as any other industry. Mobile network operators (MNOs) and vendors have set aggressive sustainability targets for the next decades towards carbon footprint reduction, and ultimately Net Zero emissions. The carbon footprint of operating the mobile network is primarily determined by the overall energy consumption from running the network, as well as the carbon emission intensity of the energy sources used. This white paper analyses the key strategies and technologies to enable energy-efficient operation of mobile networks, the potential inclusion of alternative or renewable energy solutions as part of mobile infrastructure, and the growing efficiency impact of connectivity solutions generally in all operations and services. The strategies and technologies discussed in this white paper are foundational to understanding the mobile industry’s potential for enabling positive sustainability impact for planet and society.

With the focus on energy efficiencies to run 5G networks, this white paper aims to place the sustainability objectives in the larger context while setting the stage for the specific techniques available today and potential new capabilities to be explored.

Chapter 2 delves into detailed RAN techniques to reduce energy consumption through radio adaptations in the time, frequency, spatial and power domains, and explores the role AI/ML plays in leveraging these techniques as well as other operational efficiencies.

Chapters 3 and 4 examine the system architecture enablers such as network slicing, virtualization, and Open RAN, bringing these key network architecture elements in the context of sustainability and power efficiency. They also explore network deployment and architectural options with industry case studies on small cell rollouts, indoor coverage and other alternatives for efficient, flexible and scalable networks. The chapters also investigate RAN sharing and shared infrastructure as ways to increase sustainability and energy efficiency in mobile networks while presenting opportunities and challenges that the industry needs to overcome with these approaches.

Since energy consumption correlates directly with the traffic generated by users, Chapter 5 digs into the application layer optimizations that can potentially reduce traffic volumes and subsequently reduce energy usage, especially on the RAN side.

In Chapter 6, the potential and challenges of site solutions enabling renewable energy solutions are discussed.

Finally, no sustainability story is complete without articulating the benefits that connectivity brings to the larger ecosystem. Chapter 7 discusses how mobile communications, with the help of IoT solutions, can enable other industries to reach their sustainability goals.

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