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Zero emission mobile networks

Reducing CO2 emissions and cost of energy

Why is it time to aim for net zero networks?

The United Nations has asked countries to commit to ambitious targets that help them reach net zero by latest 2050. The first step is halving global emissions by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Societies and companies are now in the middle of a green transition, decarbonizing energy sources and aiming to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

To make net zero possible, it is also necessary to reduce both the energy consumption and emission factor of used electricity.

How can digitalization impact our carbon footprint?

Digitalization makes societies more efficient, wealthier and enables better life for people. At the same time, increasing digitalization means higher traffic and energy consumption in mobile networks, which in turn can lead to higher CO2 emissions. This can increase the carbon footprint of the mobile industry.

The other side of the coin is the carbon handprint - the reduction of the carbon footprint of other industries with digitalization. Innovative technology solutions have a critical role to play in accelerating digitalization and in helping industries and governments meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, in its Enablement Effect report, the GSMA estimated that while mobile networks contribute about 0.4% to global emissions, the use of mobile technology enabled a global reduction in GHG emissions, which was almost ten times greater than the generated carbon footprint. That positive impact is set to double by 2025.

CNBC interview with Pekka Lundmark: No green without digital

What are the key Nokia zero emission solutions?

Throughout the lifecycle of radio networks, 93% of CO2 emissions are borne when the networks are in use, and about 8% are created in manufacturing and transportation. At the end of life, emissions are reduced by 1% thanks to Nokia Asset recovery service.

Base station sites account for over 80% of the use phase emissions. Running idle resources and cooling systems consume a significant part of the energy. This means that energy-efficient radio network products can make a considerable difference.

Recycling the used equipment at the end of life typically reduces the CO2 emissions by 1%. There is a great opportunity to reach higher efficiency when circularity is built into the product lifecycle.

It is also important to factor in the carbon intensity of the used energy. An example of a country where all 5G radio networks are run by using zero carbon grid power is Finland. Decarbonization of energy sources is one of the key elements in reaching global net-zero targets.

Nokia’s 2022 People & Planet Sustainability Report Highlights

How to decouple traffic growth from energy growth?

With the legacy networks, we are used to seeing use phase emissions increase when the network traffic increases. However, with new innovative technologies like 5G, the situation is different.

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) mandates that 5G networks must carry 100 times more traffic without increasing their energy consumption compared to previous radio access technologies. 5G is in fact the only generation of mobile technology that can decouple energy consumption from traffic growth.

5G has three key technology improvements, which contribute to enabling traffic growth without increasing energy consumption:

  • lean frame structure
  • massive MIMO with beamforming
  • new 5G spectrum

In addition, regulators are offering the possibility to re-farm legacy 2G, 3G and 4G spectrum for 5G use. Broad 5G spectrum assets from low bands to mid bands and to high bands help lower electricity consumption by reducing the need for network densification with new base station sites.

How to improve mobile network energy efficiency?

About 80% of a mobile network’s energy is consumed by base station sites, and operators are reporting double-digit growth in mobile network energy usage. Intelligent energy management is increasingly important to keep the growing energy costs under control. We continuously improve the energy-saving features in our radio network products and develop innovations for reducing energy consumption and the cost of energy for operators.

Modernization of legacy 2G, 3G, 4G equipment

Modernization of the legacy 2G, 3G and 4G base stations with energy-efficient Single RAN software and hardware while rolling-out 5G radios can compensate for the energy consumption of new radio sites that are added. Network modernization reduced energy consumption in average by 46%, as shown in our People and Planet report 2022. This is because the latest technologies are designed to be more energy efficient.

Mobile World Congress 2023

At Mobile World Congress 2023, Nokia launched its new generation of AirScale Massive MIMO radios and site solutions.
The latest AirScale radios are powered by a new generation of Nokia ReefShark System-on-Chip (SoC). This reduces radio use-phase energy consumption by some 30% and weight by 30% reducing also the associated material carbon footprint compared to earlier generations of radio products.

The new Nokia site solutions make deployments 30% more energy efficient, easier and faster at lower maintenance costs.

  • The Outdoor All-in-one cabinet with its advanced cooling technology reduces both cooling system energy consumption and footprint
  • The Zero footprint outdoor baseband solution uses natural outdoor cooling, which reduces cooling system energy consumption and helps operators avoid site rental costs
  • Pre-integration leads to less demand for civil works as well as better maintenance and reliability.

Single RAN software with energy-saving features

In our Single RAN approach, we use single software and common hardware for all radios from 2G to 5G, which can reduce radio network energy consumption by up to 45%. 

The energy-saving features in Nokia RAN products include, for example, switching off power amplifiers, transmitters or capacity layers in multi-layered configurations. Sleep mode settings help adapt RAN RF capacity by muting idle resources during low traffic periods. Advanced settings such as the optimization of micro-sleep periods allow for energy savings in any traffic conditions. The advanced sleep mode features provide typically 25% energy savings. Energy-saving features do not have a negative impact on other network KPIs such as service availability and performance.

AI/ML-based energy savings with MantaRay SON

In today’s radio networks, many cell sites are added for improving coverage and may not experience heavy traffic loads. As much as 70% of the resources can be idle in the network, which opens up an opportunity for further energy savings. However, manually optimizing the sleep mode for each cell site is too time-consuming.

The Energy Saving Management module of our MantaRay SON automates sleep mode optimization and allows for updating sleep mode settings frequently at the cell level with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. It brings up to 15% of additional energy savings on top of the built-in energy-saving radio features.

Energy-efficient cooling system and waste heat capture

Typically, an active air cooling system consumes 30 – 66% of the base station site energy, which means that reducing cooling system energy consumption has a major impact. The energy-hungry active air cooling systems are no longer necessary – Nokia liquid-cooled AirScale baseband is the industry’s first commercial liquid cooling solution. It can reduce cooling system energy consumption by 90%, based on the principle that liquids can transfer 4000 times more heat than air.

With liquid cooling, you can in addition capture the waste heat and re-use it for other purposes such as building heating. This results in up to 80% reduction in baseband C02 emissions.

Nokia liquid cooled AirScale portfolio

Microwave radio backhaul energy savings

With the increasing demand for broadband connectivity in any location, operators need to build more backhaul capacity. Microwave radio backhaul is scalable and quick to deploy also in areas where fiber networks are not a feasible alternative. 

Nokia Wavence microwave products are optimized for energy efficiency. They include features such as transceiver muting and deep sleep mode that help save energy based on traffic load. In addition, the embedded power metering function helps further optimize energy consumption.

Digital design for energy efficiency

Many operators design their entire network based on using the same power setting on all cells of a network layer, spectrum band or carrier. In addition to the energy savings enabled by our software features and SON optimizations, we can address the peak hour power consumption through network design, reducing the energy consumption by 10 – 20% depending on the network.

Our Digital Design for Energy Efficiency approach considers each individual cell in the network with respect to interference, load, and beam-set configuration. We optimize cell configuration enabling overall lower transmit power and a positive impact on both the CO2 footprint and the energy bill – without compromising network performance and end-user experience. The additional benefit of this approach is that it requires no large-scale deployments or architecture re-design, and has no hardware impact.

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