Decarbonizing 5G and the Environmentally Friendly Mobile Network

Mobile telecom providers are placing increasing emphasis on energy efficiency in the design and management of their networks.

Mobile networks are being designed and implemented in a way that takes sustainability into account. A new analysis from the operators’ association GSMA and Microsoft suggests that progress toward net zero by 2050 could be slowed by inconsistent activity around the world and unanswered issues and hurdles.

Even though 5G is more energy efficient than 4G, it is likely to lead to an increase in mobile data traffic and energy usage. On a nationwide scale, trials and field tests from key equipment vendors indicate a 50% or more improvement in efficiency. Individual data consumption increases will, however, lead to an increase in network capacity and power consumption without intervention.

Customers’ monthly data usage is expected to increase by nearly three times compared to 4G smartphones because of higher speeds and bandwidth-intensive applications like video streaming, AR, and VR. Despite the fact that only a quarter of the world’s population will have access to 5G by 2025, the impact on overall data traffic will be enormous.

To lessen their impact on the environment, operators can look at two options: reusing and repurposing existing network equipment, as well as increasing the use of renewable energy sources.

Artificial intelligence, software and network virtualization, and site simplicity have been regarded as the most important technologies for improving energy efficiency, while power purchase agreements have pushed renewable energy utilization forward.

As an example, artificial intelligence (AI) can help save energy in a variety of ways, including by shutting down and sleeping devices based on traffic and predictive maintenance, while software and network virtualization centralizes intelligence and control at the software layer, allowing for standardization of hardware. Shutting down the older, more power-hungry 2G and 3G networks is one of the site simplification measures.

Mobile and digital technology may be able to reduce 40% of CO2 emissions in manufacturing, transportation, buildings, and power by 2030, according to a report from the GSMA Intelligence section. The technological impact is substantial because these sectors account for 80% of worldwide CO2 emissions.

Around 85 percent of operators plan to focus on energy efficiency and sustainability as part of their network transformation. While there are already over 5.3 billion mobile customers worldwide, according to the GSMA, just 25 percent of the world’s carriers have pledged to work toward carbon neutrality.

Because they are concentrated in Europe and North America, these operators account for half of the global telecoms revenue. This is similar to how renewable energy adoption has been unevenly distributed across the globe, with strong adoption in Europe and the United States, but less widespread adoption in countries with lower incomes.

The report points out that there are numerous factors contributing to this imbalance, but it also raises the important question of whether or not technological advancements and industry standards may encourage a shift toward more environmentally friendly networks. It also includes the usage of open network equipment as part of larger network virtualization and the integration of efficiency into the 6G standards, which should be published in the second half of the next decade.

Source: SEI

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