The 5G of the future: a network that will have the environment and low energy embedded in its technological DNA

What with the forecast advent of billions of connected things and uses that are increasingly bandwidth-hungry on our smartphones, mobile networks are doomed to achieving ever-greater performance. This challenge will be taken up around 2020 by the future 5G network that is currently being worked on by our research teams. The mobile network of the future will deliver unheard-of performance and user experience. Compared with today’s 4G experience, the figures are staggering: up to thirty times more bandwidth using half the energy. But at our Orange Labs, we are actually working feverishly to cut energy use by a factor of ten, no less! 

More flexible, more responsive, and so much faster…

Scheduled for roll-out around 2020, the upcoming 5G network will be designed so that not only mobile phones, but also billions of very different things – from clothes to domestic appliances, to cars and urban furniture – will be able to talk to each other. 5G will be the first standard designed for a 100% connected world. And one connected at lightning speed! With up to thirty times more bandwidth than 4G, network responsiveness will be improved and they will be able to support new functions such as road traffic control or online gaming. The standard will also be sufficiently open and user-friendly to allow providers to create new products and services easily.

… and more eco-friendly!

The 5G standard will include the environmental dimension in its DNA right from the design stage. Its energy consumption requirements constitute a major challenge, however. New Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN), the Green Radio Communication Networks consortium, made up of a wide range of players such as manufacturers and global carriers, has already reached an international agreement to guarantee that the future 5G network will burn half the energy required by 4G. Orange, for its part, is putting its money on “Factor 10” – a 5G network that uses only one-tenth of the energy of 4G. The Group wants to demonstrate the feasibility of this by leveraging its in-house expertise, especially that of its Innovation Marketing and Technologies (IMT) department, and contributing to large-scale international cooperative research projects alongside other telecoms providers and working closely with academia. This is already the case with projects such as OperaNET in Europe, or GreenTouch at global level. As a global carrier, Orange carries weight in any decisions, especially as regards the standardisation issues that are currently under discussion.

Zero traffic = zero watts  

Today, mobile networks burn energy even when no data is being transmitted. So-called “sleep modes” are already being deployed on these networks helping to cut energy consumption. But 5G has bigger ambitions, and is based on a straightforward principle of zero traffic = zero watts. Like a car’s “stop and start” system, this will cut energy consumption to zero when not in use. The approach goes even further through the development of scalability which, for a network, means consuming energy proportionally to the service provided, based on the principle of reduced traffic = reduced consumption. To achieve this, monitoring of energy consumption by network sites and infrastructure using real-time metering systems is now essential. While Orange itself has already deployed several thousand metering systems, it is seeking to encourage manufacturers to build metering of the energy consumed directly into their telecoms devices. This will help to monitor consumption and also obtain more reliable data on our real-time consumption. Among other things, it will help us to gauge the impact of deploying energy consumption reduction drivers in real time across the networks.

Azeddine Gati (below) is in charge of the green networks research programme. He talks about the things that consume energy in a mobile network and what solutions could be developed to cut those consumption levels.

“You need to remember that what consumes most in our networks are the extremities: the data centres on the one hand, and the access networks on the other. In a mobile network, for example, it is the relay stations. They aren’t terribly energy hungry in themselves, but have a high impact due to their sheer numbers. In a mobile network, the access network accounts for 80% of energy consumption. Climate also plays a major role in consumption. Currently, network infrastructure is designed to work best at temperatures between -5°C and +40°C. When you move out of that range, you either have to heat or cool the infrastructure. Climate control accounts for at least 30% of consumption on a radio site. For our future 5G network, rather than developing climate control systems, our objective would be quite simply to broaden the range of our equipment’s tolerable operating temperatures. In this area, Orange is not only on the demand side as a client of the manufacturers, but also an agent in its own right. We are seeking to invent new solutions and to demonstrate that what we want is achievable. It is an approach that we have to mainstream across the entire spectrum of stakeholders, because 5G is not just an incremental development of 4G, but is an entirely new way of looking at things, both in terms of capacity and the environment. Orange wants to impulse paradigm change, to shift from a network that is “always on” to one that is “available on demand”. That implies a radical change in our way of designing the networks of the future, but it is achievable thanks to advances with materials, electronics, software, and system architecture.”