5G networks are as much as 90% more efficient than 4G but it requires far more energy. This is due to increased network density and use, heavy reliance on IT systems, and an acceleration of traffic growth. 5G is already changing industries in substantial ways, and presents vast opportunities through the Internet of Things (IoT) and other connected devices.
Asia is expected to lead the world in 5G adoption, making up 65% of global subscriptions by 2024. Countries like Singapore are actively taking steps to increase the adoption and commercialisation of 5G solutions. In the region, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has created the National Digital Network (JENDELA), which is laying the foundation for 5G across the country and encouraging more companies to adopt IT and automation technologies that are enhanced by it.
However, Vertiv found that 68% of global telecom operators anticipate that 5G-related services will not be fully rolled out until after 2028. As telecom providers in Asia Pacific deploy 5G, what considerations need to be top of mind to ensure successful deployment?
Addressing Rising Energy Costs from 5G
5G traffic could overtake 3G and 4G as early as 2025, according to Vertiv research. It is also predicted to increase network energy consumption by over 150% by 2026. Increases in macro, node and network data centre areas will be the primary contributors to this rise in energy consumption. This can lead to more unplanned outages for edge and core data centres from the average of 2.4 total facility shutdowns currently experienced per year.
When looking at the amount of energy required per unit of data transmitted, 5G is much more efficient than 4G and can be more energy elastic in response to network use. This means that energy consumption would be high at peak times and largely dormant when the network is quieter. Cloud-native core and virtualised RAN will make it simpler and more cost effective to make hardware and software performance improvements. Significant collaboration will also be required between operators, OEMs and infrastructure providers to ensure that 5G deployments are optimised.
Remote Management and Sustainability Considerations
Additionally, as telcos expand networks into more rural areas across the region, managing and maintaining power at remote sites will require the use of generators if using utility power isn't practical. The issue with generators is that transporting diesel fuel to these locations can be disrupted by theft, road conditions, and weather. Telco operators will need to deploy energy-saving technologies to offset operating costs from 5G technology, focusing on basic infrastructure readiness, site access and quality interconnection.
Deploying uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems to handle surges in power, minimising AC-DC conversions, and upgrading VRLA to lithium-ion batteries are all important steps telco operators can take to support 5G energy demand.
Migration strategies are also critical to maintaining the viability of 5G. Encouraging customers to switch to 5G-enabled services will be vital to help telcos reduce consumption and emissions. However, a more holistic approach to reducing energy use and emissions with 5G beyond the efforts of telcos is also needed.
Industry partnerships with telcos will help to explore alternatives to the grid and traditional generator backup. Vertiv has deployed systems with customers that integrate grid service support into the UPS and has ongoing initiatives in the DC microgrid space. An evolution of the traditional use of a UPS in a critical power system is imminent to move beyond power conditioning and backup.
Telcos must ensure that the right software and cloud infrastructure, personnel and processes are in place to turn 5G innovations in premium operations and customer experiences. These decisions will depend on operators taking a full view of their investments and its maintenance costs across the network. The impact of a distributed 5G infrastructure will be great if new models of operation can be mastered and scaled.
Danny Wong is Senior Director for Telecoms, Asia at Vertiv