The Energy Savings Imperative
for Mobile Networks

By: Cesar Morillas Arcos

Telecom operators are some of the biggest energy users in the world, responsible for up to three percent of global energy demand. Unsurprisingly, telecom energy usage—and the carbon footprint it leaves behind—is predicted to grow along with the rise in 5G technology and its expected increased traffic.

Power savings in mobile networks is becoming a clear priority for most operators for several obvious reasons: energy prices are soaring, good corporate citizenship requires green initiatives, and there is significant room for improvement in optimizing the existing power savings features usage.

The technological building blocks are there: extensive power savings features provided by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), AI-based agile decision-making machinery, and a way to measure and mitigate customer impact. Putting all these technologies together, however, and easily applying operator-specific strategies 24/7 in a multi-vendor and multi-technology environment is a challenge.

The current situation

In the last couple of years, we have seen increased news from operators on green initiatives, including more power-efficient products being sourced from OEMs. Between 2015 and 2021, the focus has been on modernization of base stations, which according to GSMA are known to be the main culprit of high-power consumption.

Figure 1: Global Mobile Network Data Traffic (EB per month)

According to this same resource, energy costs are between 20 to 40 percent of all network OPEX, accounting for estimated $3 billion per year in the US and $7 billion in Europe (estimation based on Tupl's experience and report by

In addition, the GSMA study cited above, based on data from seven operators, says the radio access network (RAN) consumes 73 percent of the energy used, while 13 percent is consumed for core, 9 percent for data centers, and 5 percent for the remainder. While there is a significant effort in optimizing data centers and core network power usage, the RAN matters the most.

Costs are not the only concern, however. Telecom operators already account for two to three percent of total global energy demand, often making them some of the most energy-intensive companies in their geographic markets. According to McKinsey, as operators’ energy consumption expands, so will their carbon footprint, hurting not just the environment but also their reputation, particularly among the expanding class of socially responsible investors.

But this does not have to be the case. All mobile operators have considerable scope to cut energy costs and consumption. In current mobile networks, for example, transferring data only consumes around 15 percent of energy. Some 85 percent is wasted because of heat loss in power amplifiers, equipment kept idling when there is no data transmission, and inefficiency in systems such as rectifiers, cooling systems, and battery units.

Currently, it is estimated that only about 16 percent of networks have any activation of OEMs’ Power Savings Features (PSFs). These are defined as a piece of software in one or more types of RAN elements that provides specific functionality to reduce the energy consumption compared to the default performance of the equipment.


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