Powering 5G cell sites may rack up big costs for operators
When the mobile industry talks about 5G, the discussion is usually focused on the capacity gains and the lightning fast speeds it will deliver. But achieving those 5G benefits requires more macro cell sites as well as small cells, and that equates to increased power consumption and higher energy costs for mobile operators.
But most wireless carriers are so focused on their 5G deployments they haven’t stopped to consider the amount of power required to fuel their networks. Chris Antlitz, principal analyst with Technology Business Research, said that energy cost is a big problem that doesn’t get talked about very much. “These active antennas in the massive MIMO box require a lot more energy than a traditional eNodeB,” he said.
In fact, it takes nearly double the amount of energy to power a 5G cell site using a massive MIMO antenna than it does a 4G cell site. According to Chris Nicoll, principal analyst with ACG, a 4G cell site currently uses about 6 kilowatts to power a three-sector, 12-radio antenna. A 5G cell site using massive MIMO technology uses 10 kilowatts of power.
Energy costs for operators have always been fairly substantial. In an April 2019 blog post, Nokia estimated that mobile operators have racked up over $78 billion in radio access network energy costs.
Nicoll added that the power requirements for wireless networks have been on the rise for many years – even before 5G. He said that over the past 20 years the energy requirements for wireless networks have increased tenfold. And with 5G massive MIMO, those energy requirements will likely double again in the next couple of years.
And it’s not just massive MIMO antennas that are causing the big jump in power requirements. Antlitz noted that many operators plan to use mini data centers at the network edge or at cell towers. Those edge computing sites will need electricity. “The amount of energy is increasing, and not just from the radio resources but also from the compute side, which will be transmitting into the sites.”
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