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5G: optimising energy and sustainability

Rising concurrently with the digital revolution, energy efficiency faces many exciting possibilities

Rising concurrently with the digital revolution, energy efficiency faces many exciting possibilities.

We spoke with Ian Hood, Chief Technologist (Global Service Provider) at enterprise software company Red Hat, about 5G's potential for maximising energy optimisation and driving more sustainable power consumption:

 

Can 5G become the world's first carbon-neutral mobile network?

5G network infrastructure is one piece of the story - equally significant is how it will combine with edge computing. Edge computing that takes place at or near the physical location of the user or the source of the data, which has many potential use cases.

The combination of 5G and edge applications delivered on cloud-native platforms certainly has the potential to provide improvements in carbon emission consumption per Tbyte of data capacity.

Current projections from various industry forums and analysts suggest that 5G will require much lower energy to transmit the same volume of data, so that 5G should outperform 4G by an order of magnitude.  As a result, carrying more traffic on 5G should translate into lower energy consumption than leaving it on existing 4G/LTE or 2G/3G networks.  

One factor to consider is that by enabling new applications, 5G could drive the acceleration of traffic volumes and associated power consumption. However, the use of a hybrid cloud container platform to converge networking and enterprise applications can counterbalance this, and beyond just the operator's infrastructure. Using a common platform for both network and IT that spans multiple locations will reduce the overall infrastructure footprint as well as reducing traffic and associated transport costs between edge and core locations. This approach will enable operators and their end customers to accelerate the innovation of new applications and services while improving overall operational and power efficiency.

Susan James, Senior Director of telecommunications strategy, Red Hat, added:

Power consumption has always been an improvement focus area due to both the cost of power and also the difficulty in providing power to a number of locations. 5G will be inherently more energy-efficient and the base station power consumption will decrease significantly. However, becoming carbon neutral will largely depend on power deployment choices such as renewable resources, solar and wind energy. Batteries backup systems exist at all sites today but they are used primarily in emergency situations and not in active power management. 

Will the introduction of 5G help IoT services achieve higher efficiency and allow inactive equipment to better conserve energy?

The introduction of 5G itself will not necessarily help IoT services achieve higher efficiency. However, the combination of 5G and edge deployments that use cloud-native technologies and software-defined infrastructure will enable greater resource optimisation. For example, it will enable the use of smaller amounts of inactive equipment using horizontal scaling with 1:n redundancy as compared to existing approaches today. In addition, in cloud-native environments, one can spin up standby equipment faster than with the physical or virtualised appliances deployed today - across IoT, video, healthcare, public safety applications.

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What is the responsibility of operators and infrastructure providers to ensure networks use as little energy as possible, and how can this be achieved?

It's a shared responsibility for the entire industry, including the operators, technology vendors, and enterprises, to ensure that network infrastructure delivering communications and applications services use as little energy as possible. Innovations in radio access, networking, compute, and storage technologies to optimise efficient use of power all factor into these improvements.  

However, a key aspect of further improving overall power efficiency is in using open platforms and interoperable APIs when building a cloud-native distributed infrastructure. If the platforms are open, operators have the flexibility and freedom to choose the optimal software applications to meet performance requirements as well as operational and power efficiency. 

Open innovations in these areas enable operators and businesses to automate service delivery closer to end customers (reducing backhaul from edge to core). They also enable elastic scale of services on-demand where they are needed compared with the idle capacity we have today.

All of these approaches will drive continued power efficiency per Tbyte of capacity delivered.  

In addition, many operators are working together to share their 5G RAN infrastructure along with their optical transport capacity to support additional services and spikes in demand. RAN and transport sharing will reduce net power usage across large geographic regions -- a converged approach as compared to separate RAN/transport networks for each operator. 

Additionally, in what ways can 5G also be used for positive environmental impact?

As 5G is focused on converging the delivery of network and enterprise applications across many technology fronts using open platforms and APIs, there is significant potential for positive environmental impact.  Many radio technologies are being combined in 4G/5G and small cell spectrum to optimise service flexibility and capacity while reducing overall power consumption.  

Similarly, the network services and enterprise applications are being combined onto open cloud-native platforms like Red Hat OpenShift, which can function as a single layer across all infrastructure, and all types of cloud, streamlining how apps are scaled and managed.  

Some operators have already developed a consistent CI/CD software pipeline approach for deployment of hybrid (physical, virtual and cloud-native) network configurations - as is already well established for enterprise applications.  Not only does this increase their speed to market of services, but this approach also improves operational and power efficiency of infrastructure so that it is provided in a just-in-time manner, minimising stranded capacity while still meeting security and service level agreements of customers.

Susan James, Senior Director (Telecommunications Strategy), Red Hat, added:

In addition to this, 5G will make it economically more viable to monitor and detect anomalies and track consumption, so that issues like water and gas leaks can be identified done much sooner, both reducing costs and conserving resources.  There are already cases where monitoring technology is deployed in remote and ecologically sensitive areas that help identify issues before they get out of hand, and 5G technology will make this more readily available. 

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