The European Union is betting its post-pandemic recovery on two cards: environmental sustainability and the digitization of the economy, which has its backbone in the use of data through 5G networks. Thus, new services and solutions will be developed in mobility, health, urban management, industrialization … more efficient solutions from an environmental point of view.
But at the same time, the world of telecommunications has to attend to its own energy consumption. How to deploy the 5G network with the least possible impact, reducing the energy consumption of mobile networks? Is it really possible to multiply data traffic without it skyrocketing?
It is estimated that currently ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) account for 1.4% of total carbon emissions into the atmosphere and 4% of global energy consumption. But 5G is going to mark a before and after in the industry. An Ericsson report from November 2020 predicts that in 2026 there will be 3.5 billion mobile phones connected to 5G compared to the current one billion, with rapid adoption in countries such as China or Korea, where about 20% of users already enjoy these. high speed networks. To these mobiles it will be necessary to join the devices connected to the Internet of Things through 5G. How will all this development affect energy efficiency?
The actual measurements carried out by Ericsson and Telefónica in Talavera de la Reina show that 5G technology consumes 10% of the power of the equivalent 4G, that is, it is ten times more efficient
Telecommunications companies reacted long ago to these forecasts, working so that all these imminent technologies are also sustainable from a social and environmental point of view. The objective is clear: to ensure that, for the first time, the increase in data is not accompanied by an increase in energy consumption.
One of the most interesting pilot projects on the energy efficiency of 5G networks is being carried out in Talavera de la Reina (Toledo). There, Ericsson and Telefónica have been working since 2018 both on the deployment of the first network capabilities and on the development of use cases. “From a technological point of view, this pilot has allowed us to adapt our systems well in advance and optimally plan the deployment in the rest of the national network, which currently reaches more than 75% of the population”, explains Juan Manuel Caro, Director of Operational Transformation at Telefónica.
Two hours of video conferencing on a smartphone, avoiding many trips, consuming ten times less energy than a car traveling one kilometer
Speaking specifically of energy consumption, the real measurements of Talavera show that 5G technology consumes 10% of the power of the equivalent 4G, that is, it is ten times more efficient. These energy efficiency data (measured in W / Mbps, that is, watts per megabits per second) have not been collected only in Toledo, but also in other much larger cities such as São Paolo (Brazil) and Munich (Germany) .
AI to optimize efficiency
Where is the key? A more efficient design of technology and equipment is essential to minimize the use of resources for data transmission. And based on this design, algorithms come into play, which maximize the turning off and on of resources based on traffic demand. The use of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) provide an added layer of reliability for the system, improving the energy efficiency of 5G.
As Iván Rejón, head of marketing and communication at Ericsson in Spain and Portugal, explains, AI makes it possible to predict, with very high reliability, the use that the network will have. With this prediction, “it is possible to reduce or even avoid the consumption of resources not strictly necessary to provide the service”, with the consequent energy savings. AI also opens up the possibility of predictive network maintenance, that is, maintenance based on the real situation and not on standardized forecasts, which also increases the efficiency of its use.
All this theory has already been put into practice in Talavera, with very good results. “We developed a pilot to test how to reduce energy consumption without affecting the customer’s experience of use or the efficiency of the network, and we managed to reduce the impact by 23% on average. We are on the way to achieving very important savings in energy costs for operators ”, explains Rejón.
We are on the way to achieve very important savings in energy costs for operators
Iván Rejón, head of marketing and communication at Ericsson in Spain and Portugal
The 5G network will be greener than its predecessors, but the most skeptical could say that if data traffic explodes exponentially, as expected, total consumption will be higher no matter how efficient the new networks are. Without ruling out this hypothesis, Pablo Bascones, partner responsible for sustainability and climate change at PwC, predicts that the net impact of 5G will be positive, since it will improve the efficiency of many services thanks to predictive maintenance, smart meters and the massive use of big data, among other advances.
Rejón also invites you to see the full photo: two hours of videoconferencing on a smartphone, which avoids many trips, consume ten times less energy than a car traveling one kilometer. “And think about the number of kilometers per day that rural doctors can save on non-essential visits thanks to telemedicine,” he adds.
In 2026 there will be 3.5 billion mobile phones connected to 5G compared to the current 1 billion
There are more use cases, and some already real, such as the use of 5G connectivity in the port of Livorno (Italy). This Ericsson program has managed, based on augmented reality, to reduce emissions by 8.2% per container. 5G is not only more efficient than previous generations of mobile technologies, but it can make any operation that involves data transmission more efficient.
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