Can base station antennas flip over a brand new leaf and turn out to be extra sustainable? (Analyst Angle)


The telecommunications trade isn’t any stranger to sustainability improvement and targets. It is likely one of the first sectors to surpass the 20% goal for the net-zero goal by 2050 set by the United Nations (UN). Primarily based on a current GSMA report, operators accounting for greater than 60% of trade income have dedicated to science-based targets. As well as, operators are one of many forerunners in leveraging renewable vitality sources — they’re at the moment about 11% above the market common for sustainable energy-sourced provides, based on Oliver Wyman’s report.

Emissions will be categorized into three “scopes.” Scope 1 and Scope 2 come primarily from the acquisition of electrical energy or vitality wanted for Cellular Community Operators (MNOs) to function their mobile networks and operations. These account for about one-third of the full emissions by the trade, whereas Scope 3 accounts for the remaining. Scope 3 emissions are attributed to an MNO’s provide chain, resembling capital items (i.e., plant, property and tools), or upstream gas and vitality utilization, that are out of the MNO’s management.

Chart 1: Telecommunications Operator Emissions Breakdown

Supply: Oliver Wyman

MNOs’ mobile infrastructure has a number of community parts, together with masts, antennas and the radio models for the bottom stations, in addition to the cupboards that home the baseband models. Globally, it’s estimated that there are about 7 million cell websites the place base stations for a number of operators will be discovered. The “antenna” is an important piece of kit within the Radio Entry Community (RAN) infrastructure. It performs the essential function of transmitting and receiving indicators to and from the end-user gadgets. A single cell web site can have a mean of two to a few macro base station antennas per sector. Moreover, there are usually three sectors per macro cell web site, however that may go as excessive as 9 and even 12.

The cellular trade has historically been working with a “rip-and-replace” antenna coverage for each wi-fi era, which contributes to pointless wastage. That is on prime of the manufacturing emissions that come from the manufacturing of the antenna unit itself. Nevertheless, MNOs are conscious of the necessity to scale back Scope 3 emissions. For instance, Vodafone Group and Deutsche Telekom are dedicated to totally abating Scope 3 carbon emissions by 2040, whereas Verizon has set a goal to cut back absolute Scope 3 emissions by 40% from its provide chain by 2035 over the 2019 baseline.

Tackling sustainability in 4 key reas

To deal with environmental issues and to be a champion for sustainability, it’s essential to sort out Scope 3 emissions, and but Scope 3 emissions are probably the most difficult to sort out. It requires intensive Analysis and Growth (R&D), a brand new perspective and new processes. There are 4 areas the place improvements within the antenna can play a component within the sustainability journey to assist the trade attain its aim: 1) manufacturing; 2) supplies choice; 3) deployment; and 4) operational.

Manufacturing + Supplies Course of

Base station antennas are advanced items of kit that require electroplating and soldering, amongst different processes. Manufacturing is usually a significant contributor to carbon emissions. The electroplating course of consumes vital quantities of electrical energy and generates airborne and waterborne air pollution and bodily waste. Tackling this air pollution requires the corporate to implement further cleanup measures post-manufacturing, which additional complicates the method of lowering carbon emissions. Subsequently, it’s important for antenna producers to put money into new manufacturing capabilities. There are novel and progressive manufacturing processes that may scale back the variety of pollution generated and likewise improve general effectivity (e.g., diminished wastage in supplies, water and electrical energy).

Other than the manufacturing course of, supplies choice and the design of base station antennas are a part of the equation. Base station antennas use supplies like plastics which might be difficult to recycle. ABI Analysis reached out to antenna producers, and Huawei commented that there are greater than 3 Kilograms (kg) of plastic components in a 2-Low/4-Excessive six-band antenna. As cellular operators add extra frequency bands (low, mid and excessive bands), the variety of bands supported per antenna may also have to extend. This might end in a possible improve in plastic utilization. Improvements on the design stage may help enhance the inexperienced credentials of antennas.

Design Course of

To additional scale back carbon emissions, adjustments made to the intrinsic design of base station antennas may help swap out supplies and scale back vitality consumption. For instance, having advanced circuitry throughout the base station antenna reduces vitality effectivity. Decreased vitality provided to the antenna dipole additionally results in degradation in efficiency of the bottom station antenna. Utilizing an built-in design, resembling Sign Direct Injection Feeding (SDIF), helps scale back the variety of parts, coaxial cables and complexity, enhancing the general vitality effectivity.

One other design initiative is to reinforce the flexibleness of base station antennas and their longevity by adopting a modular design strategy. This implies a base station antenna will be damaged down into unbiased modules for various frequency bands and be personalized to satisfy the wants of every base station deployment. Completely different frequency bands, resembling a low band and a mid band, have their very own bodily traits (i.e., the spacing between dipoles). Because the community and its necessities evolve, MNOs can swap out the unbiased antenna modules to assist future wants. This modular antenna strategy can preserve the wholesale rip and substitute follow of antennas to a minimal.

Deployment Course of

A cell web site requires a number of parts, such because the radio unit, base station antenna, and its related tools. Jumper cables are used to attach the radio unit to the bottom station antenna. Nevertheless, with the rise within the size of the jumper cable, its electrical effectivity drops as a result of vitality loss. Vitality loss can range between 6% and 25% relying the on the size for a 1.27 Centimeter (cm) jumper cable. Subsequently, to enhance the antenna efficiency and vitality effectivity, antenna distributors ought to attempt to scale back the size of the jumper cable as a lot as attainable.

With the introduction of 5G, MNOs have a brand new product of their arsenal — the Large A number of Enter, A number of Output (mMIMO) antenna. Nevertheless, further house on the pole or tower is required to deploy mMIMO antennas, which provides to the general price of deployment. Simplifying the deployment course of by implementing an built-in answer that includes the mMIMO antenna, the radio unit, and any required passive base station antennas may help scale back the quantity of labor wanted for set up, in addition to the quantity of kit on the cell web site, thereby lowering the cell web site’s carbon footprint.

Determine 1: Future Evolution of Cell Website Deployment

Supply: ABI Analysis

Operational Course of

There may be one other area that’s ripe for enchancment — the MNO’s operational part. Historically, base station antennas are fastened by way of capabilities as soon as the design and manufacturing are accomplished. This limits the longevity of the bottom station antenna and retains the follow of rip and substitute very a lot intact. Not all parts will be made modular, and they’ll succumb to obsolescence or degradation, however it’s attainable to elongate its life span. One risk is to faucet into Software program-Outlined Antenna (SDA) know-how that may assist totally different sectorization and beamforming capabilities and carry out software program upgrades remotely.

By no means a straightforward journey, however imaginations will drive the following stage

MNOs like Vodafone Group, Deutsche Telekom, and Verizon, amongst others, have set targets to sort out Scope 3 emissions. As consumers of the tools, MNOs typically must kickstart the journey towards net-zero carbon emissions. Mobile networks, just like utility companies, are essential for our trendy lifestyle they usually play an necessary function in connecting people, households, and, more and more, the enterprise sector. As a result of giant put in base of macro cell websites globally, any discount within the measurement, weight, variety of modular parts, and many others. may help minimize carbon emissions.

Scope 3 emissions consist not solely of the bodily tools, but in addition the vitality and gas utilization from MNOs’ provide chain. To cut back Scope 3 emissions, it’s essential to sort out the problems end-to-end by way of the product’s vitality effectivity, in addition to its manufacturing and supplies. Advanced and technologically superior base station antennas are more and more required to satisfy the expectations of MNOs and their customers. It’s anticipated that base station antennas might want to assist greater than six bands. By implementing improvements within the manufacturing course of and the variety of supplies used, and switching to extra streamlined designs, will probably be attainable for a discount within the uncooked supplies used and within the quantity of carbon emissions generated.

The telecoms trade must proceed to search out new methods to implement sustainable practices throughout the core community and the RAN area. Given the variety of antennas wanted globally, antenna distributors might want to make investments and drive improvements within the manufacturing course of and supplies used, whereas extending tools longevity.


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