The 5G Power Challenge

Is power an Achille’s heel of 5G? PowerRox’s Brian Zahnstecher, the co-chair of the IEEE, International Network Generations Roadmap (INGR) Energy Efficiency Working Group, provides an update to an earlier ViodiTV interview regarding the work of the IEEE 5G Energy Efficiency Working Group. Joining him is Marty Snyder of CICUSA, a system integrator that has built over 30,000 wireless towers since 1999 and is currently working with major carriers to roll out 5G cell sites.

These experts discuss the challenge of power from the device to the cell site to the core network. These experts talk about how energy harvesting and distributed energy storage will help with the resiliency and efficiency of the power grid.

Note, the audio improves after 4 minutes into the video

Conversation Highlights

  • 01:32 – “5G is a marketing term,” states Brian Zahnstecher. The promise of the 5G from his perspective is energy savings if done well.
  • 04:00 – From Marty’s perspective, 5G is just another step in a continuous performance improvement journey that started with 1G.
  • 05:43 – Zahnstecher describes the Energy Efficiency Working Group, which he co-founded and co-chairs, and which is part of the IEEE International Network Generations Roadmap. He points viewers to the interim whitepaper (PDF) the EEWG wrote that provides a broad summary of the roadmap effort on that topic.
  • 10:01 – Brian explains what is meant by the 5G Energy Gap. The Power Value Chain which measures source to sink power for delivering a wireless signal can amount to a loss equaling five to almost six times order of magnitude.
  • 11:34 – Zahnstecher introduces terms the EEWG is using to describe the impact of power needs on the economic viability and socio-economic impact of 5G; the 5G Economic Gap (5GEcG), the 5G Equality Gap (5GEqG) and the 5G Derate Factor (5GDF). He says they want to establish a common currency for all stakeholders around energy consumption.
  • 13:00 – The complexity of the stakeholder relationships as depicted below and found in the aforementioned whitepaper is a driver for having a common language for talking about power consumption along the entire power value chain.
Figure 1 The Future Networks Ecosystem courtesy of IoTissimo from the IEEE Internation Network Generations Roadmap
  • 16:24 – CICUSA has been building wireless infrastructure since the 1990s and Snyder talks to upgrades they have done. He concurs with Brian that power is a critical consideration as wireless infrastructure continues to expand.
  • 22:40 – Marty talks about some of the specific power increases they are seeing. He says it took building an off-grid cell site in a remote area to empirically understand the energy footprint. He describes the variation in power over cell sites is enormous and they have seen that it ranges from less than 1 kWh prior to an upgrade to more than 7 kWh after a 5G upgrade.
  • 26:49 – 60 to 80% of the power consumption in the wireless chain (from datacenter to end-device) is the base station power consumption, according to Zahnstecher. Energy harvesting and storage will be important in creating and using Watts more intelligently.
  • 32:06 – Will having small cells help or hurt the total energy consumption? Getting the actual data becomes complex, because of the wide variety of equipment in the various wireless networks.
  • 37:18 – Brian suggests that small cells have the potential advantage of being able to dynamically turn on and off RF power, based on demand. Still, the jury is out as to whether this will outweigh the potential power consumption increase from having ubiquitous small cells.
  • 41:00 – Interoperability and a common language between various stakeholders will be critical in realizing things like dynamic power management. Is this happening in 5G standardization efforts? Zahnstecher reinforces that agreeing on a common currency of power consumption is critical to optimizing the Power Value Chain.
  • 46:25 – Marty indicates that he has some real power data to share with the IEEE Working Group.
  • 47:15 – Marty believes ORAN will significantly reduce power consumption by allowing the sharing of radios and spectrum. Zahnstecher compares it to the Open Compute Project. He suggests a standardized 5G small cell could be ideal from interoperability and an energy efficiency standpoint.
  • 55:11 – Brian introduces the concept of supplementing energy at the edge through energy harvesting. He defines this approach to sourcing power as scavenging ambient energy from the surrounding environment.
  • 01:01:07 – Snyder emphasizes the importance of being able to generate and store renewable energy.
  • 01:03:50ViodiTV exclusive – Marty announces that they are bringing the KiloWatt Labs supercapacitor to the United States. He touts the advantage of a non-chemical method of storage for telecommunications applications, including lower life-cycle costs, lower environmental impact and many more times charge/discharge cycles.
  • 01:07:25 – This author references the 2016 interview with KiloWatt Labs CEO Omer Ghani when he described the KiloWatt Labs supercapacitor at the IDTechExpo conference. Marty talks about a real-world deployment, where they replaced traditional telecommunications batteries with the KiloWatt Labs’ supercapacitors. He explains how the charge current capability of the supercapacitor is much greater than batteries. In practical terms, this means that the back-up generator, in one of their off-grid deployments, only needs to run 1.27 hours of generator run-time per day compared to 8 hours of generator run time per day for traditional batteries. This translates into non-obvious savings, which includes reduced fuel demands. Off-line, Marty explained that the cost of fuel is significant as surcharges are often incurred to deliver fuel to remote cell sites.
  • 01:10:25 – The group discusses the importance of distributed energy storage as the network evolves to small cells. Marty explains that the distributed energy storage needed for the wireless communications network will be important for the electrical grid as well. The discussion moves into the concept of using communications to more intelligently manage the power grid; the so-called smart grid.