Indoor 5G Energy Efficiency: Creating Greener, More Sustainable Buildings

Many equipment vendors have realized the market need for energy-efficient 5G solutions for indoor cellular networks. This post walks you through some of the green solutions for in-building cellular networks that vendors are working on.

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Market Overview

  • Many equipment vendors have realized this market need from Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and enterprise customers; so, as no surprise, vendors are all-in on green solutions for in-building cellular networks.
  • Total in-building wireless market revenue worldwide will reach US$43 billion in 2027.
  • In North America, revenue will grow by 1.4X between 2021 and 2027, from US$3.3 billion to US$4.7 billion. Active Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS)/Distributed Radio Systems (DRS) represent 68% and 31% of total revenue in the region, respectively. Passive DAS and repeaters account for 1% of total revenue.
  • The Asia-Pacific region is easily the largest market, tripling from US$9.5 billion in 2021 to US$29.6 billion by 2027. DAS/DRS and small cells account for 65% and 18% of total revenue, respectively. Repeaters and passive DAS represent 7% and 8%, respectively.
  • In-building network revenue in Europe will grow 1.7X between 2021 and 2027, going from US$2.7 billion to US$4.6 billion. DAS/DRS and small cells translate to 53% and 29% of total revenue, with passive DAS trailing at 15%. Repeaters are just 4% of total revenue in Europe.
  • The Rest of the World (RoW) will triple in-building wireless revenue between 2021 and 2027, increasing from US$1.4 billion to US$4.1 billion. The revenue breakdown is as follows: DAS/DRS (53%), small cells (33%), passive DAS (17%), and repeaters (3%).

“Equipment vendors are moving toward prioritizing green and sustainability aspects in their development plans and investing in various technologies to improve their product efficiency. Key actions include smart features to save energy; solutions supporting multi-band and multi-operator; software to reuse existing architecture; new materials that are more energy efficient; and intelligent sensing and macro-micro coordination.”  – Fei Liu, Industry Analyst at ABI Research


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Key Decision Items

5G Energy Efficiency versus 4G

As demonstrated through extensive testing by Nokia and Telefónica, 5G is as much as 90% more energy efficient than 4G per unit of traffic. Networks running on 5G can process far more bits of data, making it a good conduit for sustainable practices. Not only does 5G enable the use of advanced technologies that promote a green building, but it does so with a smaller carbon footprint than legacy cellular technologies. For these reasons, operators and enterprises must migrate to 5G first and foremost for the most energy-efficient outcome possible.

Network Operators and Enterprises Need Band- and Brand-Agnostic 5G Solutions to Tackle Climate Change

The Achilles heel of 5G is that it’s difficult to provide excellent coverage for every user in an indoor environment like malls and arenas. Compounding that, different operators often use different spectrum bands—making network upgrades or new installments more costly and harmful to the environment (e.g., supply chain). However, vendors with multi-band and multi-operator 5G solutions can position themselves as enablers of cost-effective and more sustainable networks that provide uniform Quality of Service (QoS). When a customer only needs equipment from a single vendor, this greatly reduces the equipment footprint from the end user, which requires frequent transportation and, subsequently, produces larger amounts of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. A recent example of this type of band- and brand-agnostic 5G solution is the recent partnership between Ericsson and Vodaphone Oman using the former’s Radio Dot System.

What Indoor 5G Solutions Are Promoting Green Building Development?

To address climate change concerns and assist operators and enterprises in reducing their carbon footprints, equipment vendors are offering a number of sustainable products. Companies like Huawei and ZTE provide smart features, with the support of Artificial Intelligence (AI), to automatically power down devices and systems when data traffic is low. Some of these products have already shown an up to 25% improvement in energy efficiency. Meanwhile, intelligent sensing provides a smooth mobile experience for users, while deactivating Pico Remote Radio Units (pRRUs) that are not needed. For example, ZTE’s PowerPilot Pro can achieve a 20% energy consumption reduction by automatically switching a pRRU into an energy-saving mode if there is no demand.

Another solution being explored by equipment vendors is the use of Gallium Nitride (GaN) to improve Power Amplifier (PA) energy efficiency. This technology is known to cut down energy consumption by more than 50%. Tier One operator Orange is an active proponent of GaN and claims that through continued Research & Development (R&D), the technology can achieve 60% better efficiency. Equipment vendors, such as Huawei, ZTE, NEC, and Casa Systems, are all investing in GaN.

Huawei Demonstrates the Sustainability Benefits of Macro-Micro Integration

As the data needs of mobile subscribers continue to grow, operators will expand their macro infrastructure. Nonetheless, a simple 5G macro cell expansion won’t be enough to keep pace with data traffic requirements. By 2025, ABI Research expects the deployment of small cells to take off to accommodate these shortcomings.

With an eye on the future of indoor 5G requirements, Huawei is currently in the midst of developing a technology that fuses macro and microcells in areas where the two co-exist. This solution is focused on use cases where indoor night traffic is minimal. So, in this solution, a macro site provides 5G coverage to the streets throughout the day, and then their beam will turn toward indoors once nightfall hits based on identifying the related LampSites to shut down. Preliminary results indicate an energy savings of ~4% with one out of five pRRUs being in suspended functionality for 8 hours in a 20 Square Kilometer (km2) building.

Equipment Vendors Must Be More Transparent about Energy Saving Results

When operators and enterprises evaluate indoor cellular network solutions, they are typically only presented with the percentage of energy savings. But percentages are open to interpretation and don’t tell the whole story. To be more transparent, equipment vendors could provide energy utilization statistics about their products based on annual figures. This greater level of clarity could potentially stimulate more competition and increased demand for in-building cellular solutions.

Key Market Players to Watch

Dig Deeper for the Full Picture

Learn more about how the ways in which indoor 5G networks can balance performance and energy efficiency in ABI Research’s Sustainable In-Building Cellular Networks research report.

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This content is part of the company’s 5G & Mobile Network Infrastructure Research Service.

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