5G 90% more energy-efficient than 4G, Nokia study finds

5G is 90% more efficient per Mbps than legacy 4G but overall energy use is a concern and is set to be a key design factor in future 6G.

The study was undertaken by the two companies over a period of three months utilising Nokia’s AirScale technology including base stations and antenna solutions on the Radio Access Network (RAN) in Telefónica’s network.

Data gathered combined actual on-site base station energy consumption readings in eleven different predefined traffic load scenarios ranging from 0 to 100%, as well as remote monitoring of actual power consumption through the network management systems.

“Nokia’s technology is designed to be energy efficient during use but also require less energy during manufacture,” says Tommi Uitto, president of mobile networks at Nokia.

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“This important study highlights how mobile operators can offset energy gains during their rollouts helping them to be more environmentally responsible while allowing them to achieve significant cost savings.”

5G was known to be more energy efficient than 4G, and similarly 4G to 3G and 3G to 2G, but this is believed to be the first study to put a number to the gain it offers. Note also this is Nokia’s technology and other manufacturers’ products on other networks may be more or less energy efficient.

The energy challenge of 5G, however, is in the dramatically increased data traffic that will result, which requires companies to ensure that the consumption increase is limited.

Nokia in a statement says that 5G networks require further action to enhance energy efficiency and minimise CO2 emissions that will come with this increased traffic. Energy saving features at the radio base station and network levels include 5G power saving, small cell deployments and new 5G architecture and protocols, which can be combined to significantly improve the energy efficiency of wireless networks.

Nokia is also working with Telefónica to develop smart energy network infrastructure and power saving features based on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Nokia says that it is committed to decreasing emissions from its operations by 41% by 2030. The company claims that in 2019, 46% less energy was used on average in the customer base station sites it modernised compared to those where its customers did not modernise.

Looking towards 6G energy use

With 5G deployments under way, companies such as Nokia are looking towards 6G, which is expected to be standardised and in deployment by 2030.

Nokia in a white paper envisages 6G to be driven by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The future of connectivity is in the creation of digital twin worlds that are a true representation of the physical and biological worlds at every spatial and time instant to unify experience across these worlds.

New themes likely to emerge include new man–machine interfaces, ubiquitous computing distributed among local devices and the cloud and multi-sensory data fusion to create new mixed reality experiences. Wearable devices are likely to become commonplace, touchscreen typing to be replaced by gesturing and talking and devices to be fully context aware.

6G is likely to be implemented in higher terahertz frequency bands and massive multi-user MIMO will improve the spectral efficiency. However, for the first time energy is set to be a key design factor, along with data and computing as fundamental resources.

Nokia envisages that the available energy at every element of the network will be the determinator of the achievable performance. This ranges from near-to-zero energy at some types of devices to power supply limits at radio base stations to power constraints in data centres. In addition, with climate change becoming a major focus, the growing energy consumption of networks and devices is set to be highly scrutinised.

Thus, energy becomes another important dimension for the design of 6G, says Nokia.