How the power requirements of mobile networks will evolve over the next decade

Huawei take a deep dive into the challenges ahead and how the industry can work together to meet these

Fang Liangzhou, Huawei

Read this article to learn:

  • How the energy demand and carbon footprint of mobile networks is set to change
  • Pressures this will place on the sector
  • Tools available to the mobile sector to combat these energy challenges
  • The role towercos should play in managing power
  • Energy priorities in good grid markets
  • How edge computing at cell sites may change the energy paradigm

Explosive data growth in the mobile industry will lead to an exponential increase in the energy consumption of mobile networks. As mobile operators look to curb both power costs and carbon emissions, they must work closely with their most important partners, optimising the way in which power is generated, consumed and managed by the industry. In this interview we speak to Huawei’s Dr Fang Liangzhou to understand the power trends ahead, the new solutions being developed and the key steps the mobile sector must take to drive energy efficiency and reduce the sector’s carbon footprint.


TowerXchange: Can you suggest how the forecast energy demand and carbon footprint of mobile networks is set to change over the next decade ?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd: Well, that’s a good question.

First, we think that based on the development new ICT technologies such as 5G, we will see more and more new services such as unmanned mines, online education, smart events and smart agriculture, et cetera.

These new services will bring end-to-end changes and challenges to the network architecture and consequently the power solutions must be ready to support these new opportunities. Mobile networks are facing many challenges for example insufficient mains supply, insufficient space, bearing loads, hence requiring modernisation of the sites: this will be the opportunity to implement green power solutions.

Carbon neutrality is also a very important topic for our planet, and it represents a common goal for all mankind. 30 countries around the world have now officially committed to carbon neutrality targets. As recently as April 2021, during the “GSMA Mobile Net Zero state of the industry on Climate Action 2021” event, more than a third of the mobile industry, by revenue, have now credibly committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier. Research conducted by the GSMA with the Carbon Trust found that while the mobile industry is currently responsible for around 0.4% of carbon emissions globally, it enables carbon reductions on other sectors that are 10 times larger, equivalent to approximately 4% of global emissions. So, our industry is the enabler to a much wider goal. The Graphs show illustrations of this.

Energy consumption and GHG emissions of 5G networks The benefits of 5G rollout

TowerXchange: What kind of pressures do you envisage being placed on telecommunications players (from government, society and otherwise), especially as the energy consumption of the sector escalates?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly visible around the world, urgent action is required to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and further improve energy efficiency from component level up to network level. Telecom players all have ambitious targets to use 100% renewable energy as soon as possible, and plan to be carbon neutral. The pressure comes from society primarily and is passed onto both operators and government. Towercos will feel this pressure from both sides.


TowerXchange: Players such as Huawei are working to optimise 5G technologies and network architecture to improve energy efficiency – what are the key roles that mobile network operators and their partners such as towercos need to play in helping to reduce energy consumption and curb carbon emissions – what are the tools in their arsenal?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

Operators start to support the climate action journey by taking three steps:
The first step is Climate disclosure, which has grown significantly in recent years with most of the industry disclosing their climate impact.

The second step is to go through the ICT sector pathway. In the current period, many mobile operators and their partners need to agree on the pathway for reaching net zero carbon emission by 2050. They can use this approach to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Supporting GSMA collaboration together with Global e-Sustainability Initiatives(GeSI), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative)to calculate and consult on a science-based carbon reduction pathway. This will not only be for mobile operators themselves, but also the entire ICT sector including vendors and towercos, with step by step guidance for operators to align their carbon reduction targets.

The third step is with mobile industry’s efforts together to align each key target to the new ICT sector pathway and the UN Global Compact Business Ambition for 1.5°C warming. Currently we know that 50 percent of mobile industry companies have committed to the SBTs and 31 percent have a net zero target of 2050 or earlier.


TowerXchange: Lets talk a little bit more about infrastructure sharing and the role for towercos in managing power. In developing markets, there is trend for towercos to provide power as a service, with this service being very much a strategic differentiator as well as in some cases, a source of additional revenue and profit. In developed markets, we generally see power being managed by the MNOs. What role do you see towercos playing in energy management in developed countries? What needs to change to drive or incentivise them to do this? What progress have you seen to date?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

Another important good question! In many low and middle-income countries, access to mobile connectivity has been expedited by the expansion of mobile towers into areas either not connected to a national grid, or connected but receiving unreliable electrical power. In these locations, “off-grid” and “bad-grid” sites tend to rely on diesel generators, inflicting a huge fuel cost and damage to the environment. The progress and transition to renewable energy is slow. Nearly half of towers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 16 percent of towers in South and Southeast Asia, are still categorised as either off-grid or bad-grid, and over 80 per cent of these continue to run on diesel power.

The tower-sharing model has transformed tower ownership and the renewable energy business models are being re-assessed and re-evaluated. In 2014 MNOs owned about 90 per cent of the world’s mobile towers, but today 70 percent are owned and managed by tower companies.

With renewable energy solutions and the transition away from diesel power a key step is identifying the incentives and aligning the strategies across the decision-making entities is key.

What’s more, standardised energy contracts with good price benchmarking data can encourage the growth of energy service companies (ESCOs) and can promote towerco investments in renewable energy. We already see that MNOs and towercos have started to renegotiate their energy contracts, to achieve the agreements of models that incentivise energy reductions and renewable energy installations. More policy-related dialogue is needed between the organisations that own the towers and manage the energy (MNOs, TowerCos and ESCOs) and between telecom and energy sector policymakers. This we believe is the key to incentivise renewable energy.

Finally, we think that all of these issues are still relevant in developed countries because there are still areas where for example, rural coverage is poor. Solar power is a cost effective and green solution across the world. Few countries really want to see the continued proliferation of diesel generators. Increasing densification demands new power solutions. In-building solutions like for example DIS will ensure coverage to promote usage and the use of lithium batteries to ‘time shift’ power demand to less expensive tariffs we see as areas of increasing interest.


TowerXchange: In good grid markets, what do you see as some of the quick wins when it comes to reducing energy consumption/ improving energy efficiency on cell sites? Do you see outdated configurations and equipment common place? Is this having a significant impact on efficiency?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

Well, business evolution in good grid markets is one of the key focal points from many operator’s perspectives. Since a large number of connection sites exists, ultra-simplified sites and green power supplies are important, whether that is for new built sites or the expansion of existing sites.

For the simple site, our point of view is to replace an indoor room by an outdoor cabinet, to consider convection cooled pole mounted blade solutions, to remove the diesel generator, and to add solar panels when feasible. This way, operators will save on electricity bills and rent, and thus support business evolution without increasing energy related OPEX. Our ultimate goal is to comprehensively improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, and finally achieve a carbon neutral energy target network.


TowerXchange: What new technologies or technology enhancements are coming through the pipeline which have the capacity to further enhance energy efficiency on cell sites?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd: First, the construction of simplified sites will help operators to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy waste. Second, deploying advanced solar PV solutions can make more use of renewable energy to achieve ubiquitous green electricity generation and save cost.

Talking about the details, we offer very high-density eMIMO power supply and CloudLi lithium batteries so that the outdoor cabinet can be smaller and require less cooling (CloudLi can work at 35°C in normal operation). With the use of ultra-high-efficient 98% efficiency modules, Site Energy Efficiency (SEE) can reach up to 90%, compared to indoor equipment room (around 65%).

The site footprint will also effectively be reduced and this consequently avoids expensive rent.

Finally, to optimise the power consumption of the site and effectively reduce the O&M costs, our eMIMO power supply includes smart features, such as intelligent peak shaving, 57Vdc output as per ITU & ERTSI 5G power standard but also intelligent circuit breakers enabling visualisation of the power consumption of each item of equipment connected, as well remote control (on/off).

Our blade power solution, with the natural heat dissipation technology, eliminates noise and additional cooling energy consumption allowing a Site Energy Efficiency (SEE) of up to 97%.

TowerXchange: Do you see on-site renewable energy as having a role to play in Europe and other good grid markets? To what extent do the economics stack up and where does this make the most financial sense?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

Yes, most of the time, the cost of electricity produced by PV panels is now lower than the traditional generation. Adding solar panels on site is a good way to reduce the electricity bill but also to reach carbon neutrality. An alternative is to buy green electricity and we can see many operators signing PPAs


TowerXchange: The provision of edge computing services, both at cell sites or other locations, is very much on the horizon for some towercos – apart from the amount of power required, please can you explain some of the critical differences in the way that energy systems need to be designed and managed to suit such applications. What do companies need to be thinking about?

Dr Fang Liangzhou, CMO of Digital Power Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd:

Nowadays, the new services such as enterprise campuses, e-learning, tele-medicine, mining or port terminals drive the expansion of bandwidth and the requirement for low latency: IT and CT devices will coexist at most sites. The power system design should be very flexible and ready to power multiple types of IT & CT equipment such as BBUs, transmissions, servers, storage, cameras, et cetera, and hence have multiple voltage output capabilities to meet the different requirements.

First and most important is to have a high density design Unified Power that can support multi-standard energy input and output, meeting the requirements for all devices in ICT scenarios.

The second point is related to the ICT converged accommodation, where the cabinet design should allow the accommodation of both CT & IT equipment such as blade servers which can be up to 800mm deep.

Third is to have a precise environment management with controlled and stable temperature and humidity inside the cabinet, to ensure high reliability and stable running of ICT devices.

Besides this, and as we know, Carbon Neutrality is a key strategy for many operators, so energy saving is also important. With lithium battery deployment we can increase the working temperature range from 25°C to 35°C, saving on cooling requirements. Solar energy supporting implementation is also an element need to consider.

Finally, and in addition to the above, the connection to an intelligent Cloud management system with remote management and scheduling functions, visualisation of power and lithium battery running states and alarms, etc., will help both an operator and a towerco to optimise CAPEX & minimize OPEX by managing their networks in a smart & efficient manner.

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