Powering the 5G network architecture
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Powering the 5G network architecture

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Magnus Bjelkefelt, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, of EnerSys discusses how 5G will impact existing network power provision

The 5G roll-out is very much in its first phase as most Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) seek to rapidly monetise their investments by leveraging existing 4G/LTE infrastructure to provide services in the sub-6Ghz, “capacity and coverage” spectrum. The true potential of 5G will be unlocked when the roll-out enters its second phase, giving access to bandwidths and speeds at the mmWave frequencies. Deploying mmWave requires significant investments across all areas of the network, and MNOs globally are carefully planning how to maximize revenues as they roll out this new infrastructure.

As they focus on targeting the highest margin segments of their markets, it would be all too easy for the MNOs to overlook the importance of implementing adequate and reliable power supplies within their 5G network architectures. In this co-authored article, Magnus Bjelkefelt, Senior Strategic Marketing Manager, of EnerSys® discusses how 5G will impact existing network power provision and argues that energy storage is more important for 5G than for any other network generation.

Much more than just mobile phones

5G is about much more than mobile telephony. Some industry commentators are forecasting that, by enabling a wide range of emerging and future applications, 5G wireless networks will contribute US$2.2trn to the global economy over the next 15 years, mainly in the manufacturing, utilities, and professional and financial services sectors.

By offering an immense number of high, low latency connections, 5G will enable the vision of the Industry 4.0 smart factory, freeing production lines from the shackles of wired infrastructure. The evolution of the autonomous automobile is heavily dependent upon the bandwidth, speeds, and latencies of 5G. Many other applications, including the smart city and the mushrooming numbers of IoT sensors need the wireless connection densities supported by the new network. With 5G, cloud-edge computing becomes accessible, accelerating the development of Augmented and Virtual Reality (VR/AR) technologies. With the computing power located in the cloud, the edge devices become simpler and cheaper.

Powering the 5G roll-out

Designers of 5G radio access equipment have made significant progress in reducing the power consumption of their devices. The efficiency of the Radio Frequency Power Amplifier, (RFPA), one of the most power-hungry components in the network, has been increased through the use of  semiconductor materials such as Gallium Nitride, (GaN). Further innovations, such as Envelope Tracking/Restoration, (ET/ER) and improvements in switching power supplies have driven a reduction in the Watt/bit energy consumption of 5G when compared to 4G networks.

Despite these efficiency improvements, the massive growth in 5G data volumes will result in an overall increase in network power consumption. Network Operations will need to take this into account when planning their 5G roll-outs, as all areas of the network will be impacted.

The higher levels of virtualisation and increased software processing demands of 5G mean that core sites are effectively becoming data centers, requiring more servers, cooling, and power. Space will be at a premium as more racks must be squeezed into the same floor space.

Existing macro cells will be upgraded to support 5G with new Advanced Antennae Systems (AAS) being added to towers. Base stations will continue to support previous cellular generations as well as 5G, so more equipment and more frequency bands mean greater power consumption. As a result, a high proportion of macro sites will need upgraded grid feeds, and infrastructure such as battery capacities, cabinets and power distribution systems may need to be retrofitted.

The propagation characteristics of mmWave signals require huge levels of network densification, particularly in urban areas. Many thousands of small cells are set to be deployed as 5G enters the next phase of its roll out. This 5G small cell infrastructure presents specific challenges based on cell size and locations, very often being mounted on street furniture, existing poles and even on aerial strands.

Reviewing power access systems at all site types is therefore an essential activity of roll out planning, At the same time, energy storage or backup power capabilities should not be underestimated.

The importance of keeping the network alive

As our society’s dependence on 5G increases, the spotlight will increasingly shine on network availability. The benefits of fast speeds and low latencies would rapidly be over-shadowed by frequent network outages – think of the potential  impact on factory production lines and road safety if service becomes unreliable. Although existing wireless networks are built with utility outages in mind, these measures are unlikely to meet the needs of many large commercial users, who will view backup guarantees as a major consideration.

Resilience to electrical power failures is achieved by storing sufficient energy at key points in the network, usually through combinations of generators and batteries. The increased power demands of 5G will have an impact on these energy storage solutions. Adding UPS systems at core sites will require additional batteries. Likewise, deploying 5G capabilities at macro sites already equipped with 4G and older generation radios will necessitate the addition of batteries. With more equipment placed at the top of towers, new power converters are needed to increase voltage levels and limit current draw, ultimately resulting in reducing the weight of cables running up the tower. 

Today, most outdoor small cells do not have battery backup; instead, their traffic reverts to nearby macro cells during a utility power outage. With increased densification and new, critical services becoming prevalent, the 5G small cell sites must be able to operate continuously, even during a power outage. Backup will be provided by lightweight, low profile batteries placed at each site or by a centralized power system equipped with sufficient battery capacity to maintain operation in all the small cells connected to it. 

Battery technology has undergone its own revolution in recent years, with first Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) batteries and now Lithium Ion batteries emerging as alternatives to traditional lead acid batteries. While both technologies offer increased energy densities, each has its own price performance characteristics, and any solutions must be based on TCO considerations for the site. Care should be taken when engineering battery-upgrade solutions. Getting the best performance out of TPPL batteries requires advanced charging modes, with consequences for existing UPS solutions. Lithium-Ion batteries utilize Battery Management Systems, (BMS), placing new demands for training field personnel, but offering benefits in terms of intelligent and remote power monitoring.

When planning for power, enlist the experts

Engineering the optimum 5G energy storage solution requires a thorough understanding of network operations, power systems, battery technologies and safety requirements.

With over 40 years-experience of powering telecommunications networks, coupled with world-leading expertise in battery technologies, EnerSys® is uniquely placed to help MNOs navigate the complexities of powering 5G networks. Read on in this series of articles for a better understanding of how EnerSys® can use their expertise and extensive product range to secure your 5G network.

About EnerSys

EnerSys, the global leader in stored energy solutions for industrial applications, manufactures and distributes energy systems solutions and motive power batteries, specialty batteries, battery chargers, power equipment, battery accessories and outdoor equipment enclosure solutions to customers worldwide. Energy Systems, which combine enclosures, power conversion, power distribution and energy storage, are used in the telecommunication, broadband and utility industries, uninterruptible power supplies, and numerous applications requiring stored energy solutions. Motive power batteries and chargers are utilized in electric forklift trucks and other industrial electric powered vehicles. Specialty batteries are used in aerospace and defense applications, large over-the-road trucks, premium automotive, medical and security systems applications. EnerSys also provides aftermarket and customer support services to its customers in over 100 countries through its sales and manufacturing locations around the world. With the NorthStar acquisition, EnerSys has solidified its position as the market leader for premium Thin Plate Pure Lead batteries which are sold across all three lines of business.

More information regarding EnerSys can be found at www.enersys.com.

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