Mobile operators around the world have been deploying the first wave of 5G radio access network (RAN) equipment for years, prompting vendors to introduce ever lighter and more compact radios in the next generations of these products — to ease installation and deployment. But there are limits to how small and light radios can be, leading vendors to shift their emphasis to a different subject in order to compete.
In recent quarters, RAN vendors have increasingly focused on the energy efficiency of their newest equipment: powering their base stations is a particularly significant ongoing expense, and many operators have set ESG/sustainability goals that include aggressive energy efficiency targets.
Some energy efficiency measures include new, more efficient ways to cool radio hardware by, e.g., removing fans that typically require their own power. However, base station power consumption can also be reduced by using smarter software. To that end, Huawei Technologies introduced its IntelligentRAN solution in February 2022, a software platform designed to increase RAN efficiency in multiple ways. The solution uses correlative data analysis and prediction to help networks adapt quickly and fluidly to changes in user needs. The IntelligentRAN solution is designed to enable rapid service delivery, consistent high-quality user experiences, zero network faults and energy efficiency.
The solution uses what Huawei calls a Mobile Intelligent Engine (MIE), which coordinates decisions between mobile base stations (the transmitting radio equipment at cell sites) and the rest of the mobile network. Huawei offers two different versions of the MIE to specialize in real-time and non-real-time network operations.
On the base station, the MIE guides real-time transmit-power configuration and “symbol scheduling” network encoding; on the network side, non-real-time MIEs guide the selection of frequency bands, and the channels within them, for signal transmission. This significantly reduces energy consumption across the entire network.
IntelligentRAN uses an array of information sources to help guide its optimization efforts, including smart grids, scheduling dictionaries and channel graphs, in addition to various network operations data. The solution also helps operators plan cell sites to ensure alignment with service-level agreements made with customers. This process can also be dynamically re-configured, and its models adjusted, in response to service changes.
IntelligentRAN is far from Huawei’s first solution aimed at increasing RAN energy efficiency. In late 2021, for example, the vendor promoted the second generation of its PowerStar offering, which lowered base station power consumption during low-traffic hours, such as overnight. PowerStar 2.0 takes a more sophisticated approach to the same concept, powering down in microsecond increments and adjusting power consumption to match pre-established network performance benchmarks to ensure base stations don’t consume more power than needed to support quality user experiences.
Energy efficiency is sure to remain an operator priority and a competitive battleground – as well as an area of innovation – for equipment vendors. In fact, that focus is likely to increase as the next step in 5G technologies standards is developed – 5G Advanced – which already includes energy efficiency as a key area for industry standards contributors to address. So operators may be able to look forward to a day when the expense of powering the RAN is not the pain point that it is today.