NGMN lays the path to mobile network energy savings

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Dec 6, 2023

  • The NGMN Alliance is always looking for ways for telcos to be greener
  • It has published a new report with recommendations for energy efficiency based on best practices in the mobile networking sector
  • The publication has also identified several barriers to energy savings

The NGMN Alliance (NGMN) has identified and published a set of best practices to help telcos reduce their energy consumption, and has outlined the stumbling blocks that need to be addressed if network operators are to reduce their operating costs and minimise the environmental impact of their day-to-day operations.

In its latest publication, Effective Energy Saving Strategies and Best Practices for MNOs, the organisation provides guidance on technical strategies aimed at mitigating high energy costs, based on input from operators, vendors and research institutes.

The importance of such efforts has come into sharp focus over the past couple of years. 

Chair of the NGMN and SVP of group technology at Deutsche Telekom, Arash Ashouriha, noted that the high energy costs witnessed over the past 18 months have put “a renewed focus on technical strategies to reduce and better manage energy consumption as well as to ensure network resilience and stability”.

“This publication – which builds on our recent network energy efficiency roadmap (Green Future Networks: Network Energy Efficiency Phase 2) – provides MNOs [mobile network operators] with best practice energy saving and energy management techniques,” he explained.

Among the top recommendations for telcos in the alliance’s latest paper is an accelerated transition from legacy networks (such as 2G and 3G) to more energy-efficient technologies (4G and 5G). Another way to tackle energy use, it says, is to re-farm 2G and 3G spectrum for more energy-efficient radio access technologies and, as a result, deploy additional 4G and 5G spectrum that is set to increase network data throughput and capacity.

It also recommends that telcos modernise their radio access networks (RANs) by updating their RAN sites with “state-of-the-art” energy-efficient equipment and antennas that facilitate all mobile generations – from 2G to 5G – and take advantage of the capabilities offered by the latest technologies. This, according to the alliance, will help them benefit from next-generation, energy-efficient solutions.

Sustainability gains can be made with the implementation of intelligent RAN energy-saving features in 4G and 5G systems and by combining these with battery storage equipment to boost network stability.

The NGMN also recommends that telcos replace onsite air-conditioning units with new cooling technologies, such as liquid cooling, that “are significantly more efficient” when it comes to energy usage. Deploying renewable sources and battery storage units, which reduce the network dependency by electrical grids, is another option for achieving energy efficiency improvements.

These practices, according to the NGMN, should help operators better tackle their energy consumption while maintaining “desirable network quality of service (QoS) and handling a continuous increase of data traffic volume”.

Moving forward, the alliance also intends to look into novel technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), that can support energy-efficiency efforts and “make mobile networks greener”. 

Roadblocks on the path to energy efficiency

The NGMN also identified several constraints that stand in the way of the adoption of energy-saving features and equipment. It stressed that the industry needs to “work further to address several key areas, including reducing base station ‘wake-up times’ for extreme deep dormancy features.”

It noted that the strategy of extending the lifecycle of base stations counteracts the gains to be made from replacing legacy technology with more energy-efficient solutions. And it identified that the potential energy savings from frequency band switch-off plans “may not be substantial” due to an inability to completely turn off multi-carrier power amplifiers.

Finally, the industry body believes that renewable energy solutions could be deployed faster if the process for obtaining permits could be simplified. It has urged planning authorities to “streamline and accelerate” the approvals required for deploying such solutions at or near cell sites.

“Sharing energy-saving strategies and industry recommendations best illustrates NGMN’s efforts in adding immediate value to the industry whilst at the same time shaping the industry’s future direction through our core programmes,” stated Anita Döhler, CEO of the NGMN Alliance.

Laurent Leboucher, member of the NGMN Alliance board, group CTO and SVP at Orange Innovation Networks, said that energy savings efforts are “a must” for all operators. He added that the alliance will issue a further publication about energy efficiency in the first quarter of 2024 to provide “longer-term guidance including on how RAN sharing is a significant and cost-effective way of saving energy”.

In its previous report on the matter, the NGMN outlined various approaches to help  telcos achieve sustainability gains in the short, medium and long term – see NGMN unveils network energy-efficiency enablers.

 - Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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