Today, the Open RAN Policy Coalition released a new issue brief on Open RAN and Energy Efficiency.
In the paper, we note that opening interfaces in the RAN will increase flexibility, which enables rapid rollout of efficiency measures across the RAN supply chain. Understanding the impact on power usage in particular is critical for both cost savings and sustainability, as a major part of energy consumption in mobile networks stems from the RAN.
Compared with traditional RAN, Open RAN’s software-centric approach can accelerate the shift of compute resources to large data centers, leveraging advances in data center power optimization. By running as much software as possible in the cloud, Open RAN networks can take advantage of the economies of scale inherent to large data centers. Total computations performed in data centers have increased by 550% since 2010, while total power consumption increased by only 6% over the same period.
Shifting the software components of the RAN to the cloud can also realize multiplexing efficiency gains. With scalability and demand-based usage, processors that are processing radio software for Open RAN can also run other applications during non-peak times. This is not possible with proprietary baseband systems using dedicated, non-reusable hardware. Traditional RAN is power inefficient when the network traffic load is low, as the hardware is intentionally over-engineered for maximum capacity.
A study by the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) on European networks shows that 80% of cell sites carry only 20% of total traffic, while the busiest 10% of sites handle a full 50% of traffic. Pooling across sites could significantly reduce capacity requirements with significant compute and power savings.
The paper notes that modeling the cell load profile over a 24-hour period over different types of cells demonstrates that power savings in the range of 30-50% can be achieved through pooling and consolidation.