Nokia affirms 5G as more energy efficient, cautions of rising network traffic

Nokia has committed to reducing carbon emissions from its operations by 41% by 2030. (Getty Images)

Nokia on Wednesday touted joint research with Telefónica, saying a new study confirms that 5G networks are up to 90% more energy efficient than 4G networks on a per traffic unit basis.  

At the same time, the Finnish vendor cautioned that network traffic is poised to rise dramatically with the rollout of 5G “making it critical that energy consumed does not rise at the same rate.”

According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report (PDF) global mobile-only data traffic is estimated to grow to 226 exabytes (EB) per month in 2026, up from 51EB per month by the end of 2020. 5G networks are expected to carry more than half of that, at 54%.

Nokia stressed that while 5G is “a natively greener technology with more data bits per kilowatt of energy” than any earlier wireless technology generations, additional action is going to be needed to curtail CO2 emissions resulting from surging data traffic.

The vendor said there are features at the radio base station and network levels that can help save energy, like 5G power-saving features, small cell deployments and new 5G architecture and protocols.

The research Nokia and Telefónica performed took place over three months to examine power consumption of the mobile operator’s radio access network (RAN). The study looked at on-site base station energy use readings with traffic loads ranging from 0% to 100%, along with actual power consumption through network management systems.

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Nokia’s AirScale Base Stations and AirScale Massive MIMO Active Antenna solutions were used for the study.

Over the summer Nokia called out the deployment of its liquid cooling 5G AirScale Base Station by Elisa in Finland. It said the liquid cooling technology could reduce potential base station site energy expenses by 30% for the mobile operator and lower CO2 emissions by 80%.

Many major operators and vendors around the globe have made pledges to align with the environmental goal of limiting global warming. Specifically, Nokia committed to reducing carbon emissions from its operations by 41% by 2030.

“Nokia’s technology is designed to be energy efficient during use but also require less energy during manufacture,” said Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia, in a statement. “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.”

In September, AT&T announced a pledge to be carbon neutral across its global operation by 2035, joining wireless rival Verizon, who made the commitment in April 2019. This past June Verizon also become one of the first global companies to sign on for Amazon and Global Optimism’s Climate Pledge, with a carbon neutral goal 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement’s 2050 target.

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T-Mobile in early 2018 committed to moving to 100% renewable power by 2021, by purchasing enough wind power annually to account for every unit of electricity the operator consumes. However, this past April T-Mobile completed its merger with Sprint. So while the operator is sticking to the pledge, it’s still assessing the new expanded footprint. According to T-Mobile’s website, the company is working to set a new target date that will be announced later this year.