Dealing with Increasing Densification and Higher Energy Consumption in 5G Deployments

April 29, 2019 by Paul Shepard

Vertiv, together with technology analyst firm 451 Research, today released the report on the state of 5G, "Telco Study Reveals Industry Hopes and Fears: From Energy Costs to Edge Computing Transformation." The report captures the results of an in-depth survey of more than 100 global telecom decision makers with visibility into 5G and edge strategies and plans. The research covers 5G deployment plans, services supported by early deployments, and the most important technical enablers for 5G success.

The image above depicts the anticipated landscape of 5G services including: (URLLC) Ultra-reliable low-latency communication is one of several types of use cases supported by the 5G NR standard; (EMBB) Enhanced mobile broadband will supply high-bandwidth internet access for wireless connectivity, large-scale video streaming and virtual reality; and (MMTC) Massive machine-type communication supports internet access for sensing, metering and monitoring devices.

Survey participants were overwhelmingly optimistic about the 5G business outlook and are moving forward aggressively with deployment plans. Twelve percent of operators expect to roll out 5G services in 2019, and an additional 86 percent expect to be delivering 5G services by 2021.

According to the survey, those initial services will be focused on supporting existing data services (96 percent) and new consumer services (36 percent). About one-third of respondents (32 percent) expect to support existing enterprise services with 18 percent saying they expect to deliver new enterprise services.

The 5G evolution will begin for most in the next couple of years, and telecom providers need to begin to prepare now to maximize their opportunity for success. Across all geographies, telecom providers are ramping up their 5G deployments. Of course, all aren't moving at the same pace, nor are they expressing the same concerns and views on their respective opportunities and overall readiness.

The momentum of telco-driven edge computing crystalizes the notion that telcos see 5G as a way to reestablish a position in the ‘cloud to ground' computing and storage value chain beyond what they will require for their internal service operations.

Other key findings:

  • The overwhelming business outlook for respondents is very positive (70%).
    • We believe the overall sunny mood is at least partially driven by the promise that 5G and edge computing capabilities will drive service diversity and velocity with a lower-cost platform in response to the insatiable demand for broadband internet services.
  • 5G is widely expected to raise overall energy costs.
    • Nearly all (94%) respondents indicated that 5G will raise overall energy costs. Given the prominence of energy as an overall percentage of opex, it's clear that mitigation strategies will be critical to maintain 5G business case viability.
  • Energy challenges will be addressed with technologies/new risk-sharing models.
    • Energy-saving tactics will be varied and address every layer, from intelligent networking equipment that enters sleep mode during idle time to use of artificial intelligence (AI) and new cooling techniques.
  • 5G era starts for most in 2020/21.
    • Well over three-quarters (86%) of survey respondents will deliver their first 5G commercial services in 2020 (53%) or 2021 (33%).
  • Initial 5G services will mostly be ‘more of the same.'
    • Partially due to the technical limitations of the Release 15 standard and partially due to a lack of innovation, 96% of respondents indicated that 5G services offered in 2021 will be evolved versions of what is offered today on 4G.
  • Site acquisition and connectivity are critical enablers of distributed 5G/edge topologies.
    • The new denser topologies of 5G/edge networks drove issues such as site acquisition and availability of high-quality connectivity to the top of the heap of success factors in 5G; 45% of respondents ranked this as most important to success.

As networks continue to evolve and coverage expands, 5G itself will become a key enabler of emerging edge use cases that require high-bandwidth, low latency data transmission, such as virtual and augmented reality, digital healthcare, and smart homes, buildings, factories and cities.

However, illustrating the scale of the challenge, the majority of respondents (68 percent) do not expect to achieve total 5G coverage until 2028 or later. Twenty-eight percent expect to have total coverage by 2027 while only 4 percent expect to have total coverage by 2025.

5G deployment roadmap (click on image to enlarge)

"While telcos recognize the opportunity 5G presents, they also understand the network transformation required to support 5G services," said Martin Olsen, vice president of global edge and integrated solutions at Vertiv. "This report brings clarity to the challenges they face and reinforces the role innovative, energy-efficient network infrastructure will play in enabling 5G to realize its potential."

To support 5G services, telcos are ramping up the deployment of multi-access edge computing (MEC) sites, which bring the capabilities of the cloud directly to the radio access network. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they are already deploying MEC infrastructure ahead of 5G deployments while an additional 47 percent intend to deploy MECs.

As these new computing locations supporting 5G come online, the ability to remotely monitor and manage increasingly dense networks becomes more critical to maintaining profitability. In the area of remote management, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) was identified as the most important enabler (55 percent), followed by energy management (49 percent). Remote management will be critical, as the report suggests the network densification required for 5G could require operators to double the number of radio access locations around the globe in the next 10-15 years.

The survey also asked respondents to identify their plans for dealing with energy issues today and five years in the future when large portions of the network will be supporting 5G, which 94 percent of participants expect to increase network energy consumption. Among the key findings:

  • Reducing ac to dc conversions will continue to be an area of emphasis, with 79 percent of respondents saying this is a focus today and 85 percent saying it will be a focus five years from now.
  • New cooling techniques will see the biggest jump in adoption over the next five years. Currently being used by 43 percent of telcos worldwide, this number is expected to increase to 73 percent in five years.
  • Upgrades from VRLA to lithium-ion batteries also show significant growth. Currently, 66 percent of telcos are upgrading their batteries. Five years from now, that number is projected to jump to 81 percent.

"5G represents the most impactful and difficult network upgrade ever faced by the telecom industry," said Brian Partridge, research vice president for 451 Research. "In general, the industry recognizes the scale of this challenge and the need for enabling technologies and services to help it maintain profitability by more efficiently managing increasingly distributed networks and mitigating the impact of higher energy costs."

Vertiv released the report in conjunction with its participation in Dell Technologies World, a global exposition focused on digital transformation. During the expo, Vertiv is also showcasing a virtual reality (VR) experience that lets users build a sample 3D model data center and interact with their creations through a VR system.