Green Tech, Green Development

Huawei commits to building eco-friendly 5G networks at its Better World Summit 2021

Huawei hosted the latest in its series of Better World Summit events in Dubai in October 2021. The conference focussed on green networking practices, with particular emphasis on 5G. As part of our series looking at sustainability in the technology industry, we’re reviewing some of the event’s highlights.

Bob Cai, chief marketing officer of Huawei’s Carrier Business unit, delivered the opening speech, titled Green ICT for Green Development. Mr Cai stated that Huawei now incorporates green development into all its products, from network infrastructure to devices — itself an indication of how sustainability has risen up the corporate agenda. In principle, his message was twofold:

  • Firstly, to help operators with their carbon-neutral goals by offering products and solutions that will help them cut carbon emissions and make their networks more energy efficient.
  • Secondly, to work with operators by using 5G and other technology, better enabling other industries to cut emissions and accelerate their journey to carbon neutrality.

Around the first message, several presentations referenced a range of solutions Huawei has developed to reduce energy consumption and help operators build greener 5G networks. They include:

  • iSolar power supply: a system that can be used in cabinets, on poles, at cell sites and inside equipment rooms. Huawei also redesigned its cell site designs to share energy consumption between equipment elements to reduce wastage.
  • MetaAAU: an extremely large antenna array that provides widespread coverage with a lower transmit power. Field tests in China’s Zhejiang province show MetaAAU consumes about 30% less energy than conventional antenna array products.
  • Ultra-wideband remote radio unit modules: these use power amplifiers, hardware units and advanced algorithms to integrate multiple single-band devices into one box with an ultracompact design, providing support for more bands with the same power consumption.
  • Signal direct injection feeding: technology that removes the 100 m of cables inside an antenna, significantly reducing energy loss and boosting antenna efficiency. As a result, the same level of coverage can be achieved with 20% lower transmit power.
  • APM5950 cabinet: this enables operators to deploy cell sites outdoors without the equipment rooms and air conditioners that are standard for indoor sites, reducing power consumption by up to 30%. Also, it maximises solar power usage.
  • Service-adapted energy usage: intelligent collaboration between service traffic and site hardware, including power supply, storage and usage units. This enables networks to adjust energy consumption efficiency in real time based on traffic load.
  • Service-driven smart temperature control: this feature ensures that cell sites operate with optimal efficiency, reducing site power consumption by up to 24%.

Huawei has so far deployed its low-carbon site solutions in more than 100 countries, including Greece, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Its PowerStar intelligent base station solution has been commercially deployed by more than 50 operators; test results in China’s Sichuan province show that it can reduce network energy usage by over 25% while maintaining key performance indicators. Deployment of these solutions suggest that mobile operators are at least starting to build more power-efficient networks. At the event, there were several examples of operators showcasing the “greenness” of their networks.

Mr Cai’s second message, about the power of 5G to deliver energy efficiency in other industries, was accompanied by several examples of implementation as well as data noting its success. We recently blogged about how technology can help other sectors implement greener operations (see Delivering Innovative Sustainability Solutions with 5G).

Huawei isn’t the only company making statements about sustainability and green networking. But the focus on green information and communications technology during the Better World Summit is the latest in a series of activities that demonstrate the company’s commitment to energy efficiency. In June 2021, Huawei proposed the Network Carbon Intensity initiative, in which carbon emissions per bit of data act as a new metric for green networks. The company stated that this initiative to better manage and measure carbon reduction could counterbalance the industry’s drive to increase network usage.

As sustainability in the industry is a collaborative issue, Huawei said it will continue hosting events acting as a platform for industry partners and operators to share innovative technologies and practices on green development. This includes events other than the Better World Summit; at MWC Barcelona 2022, Huawei plans to hold a green development forum with its partners.

Huawei’s 12th Mobile Broadband Forum, held in Dubai the week before the summit, also showcased opportunities 5G presents for digital transformation, focussing heavily on ways to go green. During the keynote, Ryan Ding, Huawei’s executive director and president of the company’s Carrier Business unit, said it was important “to recognize that our industry has a growing carbon footprint, and we have to take steps to improve that”. Mr Ding urged the industry to ramp up adoption of more efficient technologies, with 5G being foremost.

According to Mr Ding, it’s estimated that by 2030 the average data traffic per user per month will reach 600GB. This rapid growth in network usage validates the need for the metric proposed in Huawei’s Network Carbon Intensity initiative. What this means is that without efforts to optimize the energy consumption of new and existing mobile networks, their energy usage will increase by a factor of 10 to deliver the predicted growth in traffic.

To avoid this scenario, operators will need to radically cut greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030 to achieve global greenhouse gas emission targets. This means they need to innovate how they build networks from end to end, spanning equipment, cell sites, network operations and devices, to incorporate green networking practices and reduce their energy needs — in addition to sourcing renewable power supplies. There’s no single, simple solution, so operators need access to a range of power-saving capabilities, such as those outlined above. As mentioned at the Better World Summit, every piece of equipment or operation that reduces energy consumption, however modestly, makes a difference.

The Mobile Broadband Forum also featured several speakers from operators including Vodafone and Orange, as well as GSMA director general Mats Granryd. All of them spoke about the imperative to reduce energy consumption and embrace sustainability in mobile networks, and referenced the work they’re doing in partnership with equipment and solution providers.

The green networking message certainly appears to be spreading through the telecoms industry. But deployment of energy-efficient network infrastructure is far from universal, and there needs to be much more consistency in the sector. It remains to be seen whether the industry commitments and actions outlined in conferences like Huawei’s can be sustained and deliver real long-term results in terms of energy reduction — not only in the telecoms industry, but in the smart adoption of 5G and digital technologies in other sectors too.