Nov 11, 2021

5G 'inherently more energy consuming' than 4G

Energy
Technology
communication
Sustainability
Dominic Ellis
5 min
InterDigital and ABI Research outline a complex relationship between 5G and energy consumption

5G is "inherently more energy-consuming" than 4G due to the stringent power requirements of Massive MIMO deployments, according to a paper from InterDigital and ABI Research.

With the ICT sector expected to account for as much as 20% of global consumption levels by 2030, any effort to reduce carbon emissions must consider the impact of 5G.

However the picture is mixed as when estimating the energy required for a single Mbps of capacity, 5G is a much more efficient technology than 4G, the research found.

By digitising enterprise workflows and other parts of daily life, 5G enables more efficient operations that reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint. Current deployments of 5G have the potential to reduce global energy consumption by 290,000TW by 2030, and that number balloons to over 900,000TW of energy reduction under ubiquitous 5G coverage.

It identifies key 5G-enabled enterprise verticals that could drive meaningful energy and carbon mitigation. For example, in smart manufacturing, 5G-enabled automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are 45% more productive than non-5G counterparts, translating to a potential 3,800TW energy savings and 1.2GT reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

In smart transportation, 5G drives operation efficiency and can decrease the annual time spent by each car in motor traffic by 24 hours and airplanes’ average ground time by 3 minutes per flight, which both indirectly drive significant energy savings.

Despite a slight decline in the worldwide mobile subscriber base resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile network operators across different markets continue to expand 5G network deployments. By the end of 2020, 264 million subscriptions were achieved.  ABI Research forecasts that the 5G market will continue to accelerate and reach 2.6 billion subscriptions, a significant contribution to mobile operator revenue of US$942 billion in 2026.

Driven by heavy investment of Chinese operators, China is the key contributor of 5G market, holding more than two-thirds of the worldwide 5G subscriptions at present. The US is second in 5G adoption with more than 50 million subscribers, followed by Japan and South Korea.

“We’re entering a critical time for both 5G evolution and the climate health of our globe. This report helps us to identify emerging solutions and new pathways to reap the immense benefits of 5G-enabled networks and ecosystems while mitigating and eliminating their added energy impact on our world,” said InterDigital CTO Henry Tirri. “With new 5G capabilities, we can even improve our commitments to efficiently and effectively tackle climate change.”

ABI Research reveals that 5G rollout will be critical in helping communication service providers (CSPs), enterprises, and consumers across the globe reach their self-prescribed sustainability goals,” said Leo Gergs, Senior Analyst at ABI Research.

“By 2030, 5G adoption for key enterprise verticals can reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 37 Gigatons, and therefore be an important building block for industry carbon neutrality by 2050. To drive this, the entire industry must embrace this consolidated ecosystem effort and encourage close collaboration with implementing enterprises to understand their pain points and key requirements.”   

The 5G rollout will be critical in helping communication service providers (CSPs), enterprises, and consumers across the globe reach their self-prescribed sustainability goals, added Leo Gergs, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “By 2030, 5G adoption for key enterprise verticals can reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 37 Gigatons, and therefore be an important building block for industry carbon neutrality by 2050. To drive this, the entire industry must embrace this consolidated ecosystem effort and encourage close collaboration with implementing enterprises to understand their pain points and key requirements.”   

Other findings include:

  • Network operators are exploring next-gen solutions to aggressively combat 5G’s energy footprint. For example, operators have implemented sustainability or carbon neutrality requirements for suppliers, considered new modes of self-energy generation like micro-grids and smart-metering, and explored the use of AI algorithms to predict and adjust energy consumption.
  • The external influences driving the ICT sector’s 20% capture of global electricity consumption by 2030 include the demand for ubiquitous connectivity and immersive experiences, corporate trends towards remote work and video-enabled training, and urban transitions towards connected smart cities.

Separate ABI Research forecasts the Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) market will exceed 180 million subscriptions and generate US$70 billion in revenue by 2026. Quickly progressing 5G rollouts in North America and Western Europe is expected to drive the 5G FWA market as operators target to offer 5G FWA to the areas where Fiber to the Home (FTTH) is not covered.

Although the 5G-new-radio standard is more energy efficient per gigabyte than are the 4G standards, the proposed 5G use cases and new spectrum bands will require many more mobile sites, outstripping potential energy efficiencies, according to McKinsey, although some savings may be provided by AI and IoT.

"Each 5G site will need two to three times more power than the 4G-equivalent site, according to industry estimates. At the same time, as more services are provided at the edge, the number of data centers will need to rise. By our calculations, these already account for 5 to 10 percent of a telecom operator’s energy costs," it states.

Frost & Sullivan's recent analysis, Materials for 5G Infrastructure: Technology and IP Analysis, finds that antenna substrate is the strongest segment due to rising demand for smartphones and large number of planned base stations.

"Successfully launching a full rollout of 5G networks requires an extensive implementation of 5G infrastructure," said Aarthi Janakiraman, TechVision Research Director at Frost & Sullivan. "5G materials are an essential part of 5G infrastructure, including the production of every 5G component, such as the antenna in package (AiP), switchers, filters, RF amplifiers, and cables. With the increasing number of antennas and base stations, the demand for 5G materials will proliferate."

Share article