Nokia talks up 5G energy efficiency but power consumption is only going one way

Nokia is bigging up the energy-efficiency credentials of 5G technology, but it’s pretty clear that 5G will still use more power than previous generations of mobile technology.

The Finnish vendor shared headline findings from a new study carried out with operator partner Telefonica that showed 5G networks are as much as 90% more energy-efficient than legacy 4G networks. However, it’s a very carefully worded announcement that also warns telcos they need to take more action to help offset rising power consumption with 5G.

Nokia was clear that the 90% figure – “up to” 90%, that is – refers to power consumption per traffic unit. But that does not necessarily mean lower power consumption overall; quite the opposite in fact, given that data traffic volumes are only going in one direction. The vendor’s announcement suggests at that outcome, without actually addressing the specifics of the overall impact of 5G on power consumption across the industry.

“5G is a natively greener technology with more data bits per kilowatt of energy than any previous wireless technology generation. However, 5G networks require further action to enhance energy efficiency and minimize CO2 emissions that will come with exponentially increased data traffic,” it said. “There are several energy-saving features at the radio base station and network levels, such as 5G power-saving features, small cell deployments and new 5G architecture and protocols, which can be combined to significantly improve the energy efficiency of wireless networks.”

More traffic means more power. It is incumbent on the industry to address that issue though, and the Nokia study contributes to the broader picture on powering 5G networks.

The vendor’s research took place over a three-month period, looking at the power consumption of Telefonica’s RAN and its own AirScale portfolio, including base stations and Massive MIMO active antenna solutions. It explained that it looked at 11 pre-defined traffic load scenarios that measured the energy consumed per Mbps based on the traffic load distribution.

“This important study highlights how mobile operators can offset energy gains during their rollouts helping them to be more environmentally responsible while allowing them to achieve significant cost savings,” said Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia.

And that’s the best way to get the telcos on board: highlight any potential cost-savings. Because while everyone in this industry talks a good game when it comes to green credentials, ultimately, the wallet is king.

Nokia also noted that it is working with Telefonica to develop smart energy network infrastructure and power-saving features based on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

As we move towards greater automation in networks, more opportunities to keep power consumption – and energy bills – to a minimum open up.

The power requirement of 5G will always be great, but technology innovation should help to keep a lid on it and industry stakeholders will be able to continue to talk about how green they are.

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