Carriers have been looking at energy efficiency for a few years now, but 5G will bring this to top of mind because it’s going to use more energy than 4G. Telcos spend on average 5% to 6% of their operating expenses, excluding depreciation and amortization, on energy costs, according to MTN Consulting. And this is expected to rise with the shift to 5G.
A typical 5G base station consumes up to twice or more the power of a 4G base station, writes MTN Consulting Chief Analyst Matt Walker in a new report entitled “Operators facing power cost crunch.” And energy costs can grow even more at higher frequencies, due to a need for more antennas and a denser layer of small cells. Edge compute facilities needed to support local processing and new internet of things (IoT) services will also add to overall network power usage.
Exact estimates differ by source, but MTN says the industry consensus is that 5G will double to triple energy consumption for mobile operators, once networks scale.
Warnings of more power consumption are coming from some Chinese operators that are leading the world in 5G deployments. In November 2019, China Mobile EVP Li Zhengmao said that its electricity costs were rising fast with 5G. China Mobile has tried using lower cost deployments of MIMO antennas, specifically 32T32R and sometimes 8T8R rather than 64T64R, according to MTN. However, Li says 5G base stations are carrying five times the traffic as when equipped with only 4G, pushing up power consumption. The carrier is seeking subsidies from the Chinese government to help with the increased energy usage.
According to Huawei data on RRU/BBU needs per site, the typical 5G site has power needs of over 11.5 kilowatts, up nearly 70% from a base station deploying a mix of 2G, 3G and 4G radios. 5G macro base stations may require several new, power-hungry components, including microwave or millimeter wave transceivers, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), faster data converters, high-power/low-noise amplifiers and integrated MIMO antennas.