Energy ‘will take bigger share’ of 5G operators’ costs

Energy ‘will take bigger share’ of 5G operators’ costs

25 November 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Telefónica, Verizon and Vodafone are making significant progress in their aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, says a new report.

But all operators will face a rising challenge as their move to 4G and then 5G means that energy – already the biggest slice of operating costs – will take an even bigger share.

Much of the progress achieved so far has been driven by improvements in the market for renewed energy, said Tim Hatt (pictured), head of research at GSMA Intelligence, introducing the report.

But there are other things that operators can do, said Jiashun Tu, principal scientist at ZTE, the Chinese vendor that supported the research, published today.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can forecast demand so that base stations can be powered down during low-traffic periods. This can save almost nine hours of energy, he suggested. And operators can use the time to charge batteries for use during the day, when costs are higher.

For Verizon, 85% of its energy consumption goes on networks, including base stations as well as data and switching centres. For Vodafone and Telefónica, the proportion is 89%, says the new report, 5G energy efficiencies: Green is the new black (PDF here).

Telefónica has already reduced CO2 emissions by 50% compared with 2015, with a target of cutting them to 70% by 2030. Verizon wants to cut CO2 emissions by 50% by 2025, and achieved 20% between 2016 and 2018, says the report. Vodafone also wants to cut CO2 emissions by 50% by 2025, but has not quite achieved 10% yet, says GSMA Intelligence in the report.

“The major enablers have come from advances in the renewable energy markets, including increased supply, trading liquidity and long-term purchasing contracts,” says the GSMA Intelligence report.

But the report warns: “Despite the progress of the above groups, it is important to caution that reporting targets are not yet in place in a majority of operators. This is exacerbated by a number of persistent barriers including data availability, lack of partnerships and, in some cases, outdated organisational structures.”

The report notes that 5G “offers a significant energy-efficiency improvement per gigabyte over previous generations of mobility”. But, ironically, 5G will “require more sites and antennas”, and the use of mobile data is rising fast – fourfold by 2025, said Hatt – resulting in higher emissions.