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29 November 2019

China Mobile calls for electricity subsidies to meet 5G power costs

China Mobile has been prominent in warning of the risks of high 5G power consumption, and now the operator’s EVP, Li Zhengmao, has called on the government to subsidize electricity costs for telcos in order to accelerate 5G expansion.

Speaking at a GSMA seminar in Beijing last week, Li said operators had made little progress in reducing 5G power consumption and cost. In the early days of the standards process, there were ambitious claims that the 5G radio would be far more power-efficient than its predecessors, but these gains have been more than cancelled out by the larger number of cells and antennas that are required for 5G.

Higher frequency spectrum, from 3.4 GHz up to millimeter wave, are being used to support the rising capacity requirements of users and new applications, but these have limited range, and so they lead to deployment of dense networks, Massive MIMO antenna arrays and beamforming, all of which boost power usage. Li says China Mobile’s 3.5 GHz 5G build-out will need about three times the number of base stations it deployed for LTE, to cover the same area.

He added: “Each base station now carries more than 100Mbps per carrier, five times time more than LTE.” He noted that the Shanxi and Guangdong provincial governments were already offering electricity subsidies and called on other provinces to follow suit.

He reminded the audience that the three Chinese telcos plan to deploy 130,000 5G base stations by year end. He said China Mobile has improved energy efficiency with more flexible deployment of Massive MIMO, configuring 32T32R arrays, or even 8T8R, in some locations instead of 64T64R. He also thinks the emerging open RAN technologies will improve performance and so require fewer antennas – and less energy – to deliver the same traffic.

But all this is overshadowed by rising power consumption in these dense networks – a recent report from ABI Research suggested that 5G would drive up operator electricity costs by as much as 350% compared with 4G.