How renewable energy will power 5G mobile service5 minutes
In early 2018, news headlines lit up with AT&T’s announcement that it would roll out next-generation 5G mobile internet in a dozen markets by the end of the year, expecting to be the first company in the U.S. to do so. Industry analysts called it a bellwether for the future of high-speed Internet capabilities as mobile network operators around the globe begin to evolve their infrastructure to accommodate the increase in power consumption–and energy & operational costs–that are anticipated to accompany the move to 5G technology.
To address these challenges, communications companies are looking to greener, more efficient energy grid and tower technology as a crucial path to staying competitive. Ericsson, in collaboration with Panasonic Corp. of North America, has already begun trial deployment of a new, sustainable energy-as-a-service solution at hundreds of sites across North America, with plans to rapidly expand in 2018.
Smart, sustainable grid and tower technology
The advanced energy solution, called Green Tower, combines Panasonic lithium-ion batteries and solar modules with site-management software and big-data analytics, providing an efficient way for mobile operators and tower companies to measure, monitor and maintain energy infrastructure. The partnership between Panasonic and Ericsson, a leader in communications technology and services, promises to provide a smoother transition to 5G for mobile network operators, arming them with the capability to more cost-effectively generate and manage the energy needed to power a faster network while still maintaining compatibility for their legacy systems and users.
One recent EU study projects dramatic growth in energy use by the telecommunications industry, forecasting that this sector could be responsible for over 50 percent of global power usage by 2030. Energy is the largest controllable expense at a cell tower site, after fixed rent, which is why, for carriers to be competitive, they will need a smart energy solution that slashes usage levels and provides energy management capabilities as 5G moves forward.
A new industry standard
Lithium-ion batteries came into significant use in the 1990s and the technology is being embraced because the cells are non-toxic, lighter than lead-acid batteries, and can also perform useful work, providing cost and energy efficiencies. In addition, the lifespan of a lithium-ion battery is 10+ years—at least double that of a lead-acid battery. A longer shelf life greatly reduces the cost and maintenance burdens of performing battery replacements at wireless towers, and in fact has a lower 10-year total cost of ownership than lead, making it a smart choice for deployment today that will continue to provide advantages as the industry evolves.
These types of advanced energy solutions offer network operators the ability to select energy providers and sources from a centralized location as circumstances dictate. For example, Panasonic’s lithium-ion battery backup systems can be charged during low-cost nighttime hours and used as primary energy sources during the day in markets with suitable tariffs.
When coupled with smart site management controls, energy storage not only improves site resiliency but can cut operating expenses, offering a crucial advantage that will possibly become the industry standard as energy and operating costs continue to rise. In addition to smart, sustainable energy storage, the Green Tower platform also has the capacity to generate energy through solar panels and generate revenue through provision of grid services.
Economic value from disruptive technology
A few years ago, global consulting firm McKinsey identified renewable energy, such as what’s being used to power the Green Tower platform, among two dozen disruptive technologies that would account for trillions of dollars in economic value in the decade ahead. Panasonic is deeply engaged in almost half of these technologies. That’s important because when industry leaders are creating new experiences, like the move to 5G, chances are, they’re going to need to stitch together different disruptive technologies into an integrated solution. Panasonic is uniquely skilled at bringing together these technologies.
“Panasonic Green tower will reduce the total cost of ownership for energy equipment by up to 40%, primarily driven by longer battery life and fewer maintenance site visits. This advanced technology is a good example of how circular economy reduces environmental impacts through longer product life, replacement of lead in batteries and reduced need for transport,” says Bradley Mead, Head of Network Managed Services at Ericsson.
In addition to Ericsson’s work, other communications companies around the world are exploring advanced energy solutions as a viable option for expanding their network capacity. Wireless carriers are already commencing deployment and trials of Panasonic Green Tower in Latin America, Australia and the European continent. Motorola will upgrade 80 of its sites in Norway with this advanced energy technology in March.
“Panasonic field trials of Green Tower have shown impressive results, including the highest level of network availability for our customers,” says Bob Buethe, MSSSI Vice President, Managed and Support Services, Motorola Solutions, Inc. “We are excited for the potential of renewable energy to power the next generation of high speed wireless service.”
It was also recently announced that Crnogorski Telekom, Montenegro’s leading telecommunications service provider, has signed a ten-year Battery as a Service managed services agreement with Ericsson. As part of the deal, Panasonic will be responsible for dimensioning, manufacturing, supply, performance guarantees and support for battery and power infrastructure.