Vodafone slashes energy consumption in Ericsson 5G radio trial

The trial took place in London, with an Ericsson AIR 3227 antenna-integrated radio deployed on the roof of Vodafone’s Speechmark digital hub building. (Vodafone)

Vodafone plans to deploy 1,500 new 5G radio units from Ericsson by next spring – after recent trials showed a more than 40% reduction in daily average energy use compared to the previous generation.  

The trial took place in London, with an Ericsson AIR 3227 antenna-integrated radio deployed on the roof of Vodafone’s Speechmark digital hub building. Vodafone said the demonstration cut energy consumption by a daily average of 43%, and up to 55% at off-peak hours in the network. It was Vodafone’s first deployment of the 32T32R 5G radio from the Swedish vendor.

The reduced energy use compared to Ericsson’s earlier generation 64T64R massive MIMO antenna, according to the Mobile Network.  The newer 5G radio has a smaller footprint and is 51% lighter, but still delivers on-par performance. They will be rolled out by Vodafone in the U.K. by April 2022.

With better energy management and a more compact design, Vodafone expects the low-power consumption AIR 3227 will make it easier and faster to turn up 5G and upgrade 4G.

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“Our strategy is simple; turn off anything we don’t need, modernise our network where possible, and use the most energy efficient options available without compromising the service we deliver to our customers,” said Andrea Dona, chief network officer at Vodafone UK, in a statement.” The success of this trial allows us to explore new ways we can more effectively manage the energy consumption of our network with our partner Ericsson.”

As data traffic is expected to rise and high-power mobile networks deployed more widely, reigning in and offsetting energy consumption of 4G and 5G networks and carriers is a focus for operators and equipment vendors. Some are also looking to leverage broadband technologies to create products that help other businesses reduce emissions through efficiency. For example, AT&T this week set a target to eliminate 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions with partners including Microsoft and Duke Energy by 2035 – by delivering “broadband-enabled climate solutions at global scale.”

Vodafone is among global operators that have pledged environment goals to reduce or counter carbon emissions from operations. Specifically in the U.K. the mobile operator is targeting 2027 to reach net zero, and 2040 for its full carbon footprint globally.

Dona noted there’s “no silver bullet for managing network energy consumption” and it’s about “adding up all the small gains to make a material difference.”

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Ericsson also recently won a deal to supply its cloud-native dual-mode 5G core for Vodafone in the U.K, as the operator plans to shift to standalone (SA) 5G, which no longer relies on LTE unlike the non-standalone (NSA) version seen in most initial 5G deployments.

However, Vodafone’s still putting resources into 4G – including recent refarming of 3G spectrum to support growing LTE traffic. On Thursday the carrier cited a 40% bump in 4G network traffic year-over-year in the last 12 months.

3G, meanwhile, only accounts for about 4% of Vodafone’s total traffic. So the carrier has reallocated 10 MHz of spectrum in the 900 MHz band, previously used for 3G, to support 4G. At this point Vodafone said the contiguous 10 MHz block of spectrum has been dedicated to 4G at multiple sites in London, “with hundreds more to follow.”

Refarming the 900 MHz band for 4G is expected to double low-band capacity, and will happen alongside the roll out of massive MIMO antennas.

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“Spectrum is a finite and valuable resource for the digital world, and therefore we have to be very careful how it is deployed. As 3G traffic continues to fall and 4G traffic continues to rise, repurposing this block of low band spectrum gives a great customer experience in the most efficient way possible,” Dona said in a statement. “And we have outlined a roadmap which enables us to pivot to 5G to stay ahead of customer usage.” 

Upgrades to 5G can be done via software. 2G and 3G services, meanwhile, will maintain a smaller dedicated block of spectrum.

In the U.S. T-Mobile’s coming shutdown of the legacy Sprint 3G CDMA network early next year has ruffled feathers with Dish over potential impacts to Boost Mobile customers and raised concerns at the Department of Justice. AT&T plans to sunset 3G in February 2022, prompting recent outcry from the alarm monitor industry which wants to see the timeline delayed (AT&T has said that would impair the carrier’s 5G rollouts). After earlier delays, Verizon plans to turn off its 3G CDMA network at the end of 2022.