Green by Design: An Open-RAN AI-Powered Path to Energy Efficiency

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Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) implementations offer an exceptional opportunity to improve energy efficiency, when compared to traditional RAN networks. Open RAN with its O-RAN compliant radios is now making major strides in driving enhanced energy savings, greater automation through AI and better KPI statistics – lowering total cost of ownership for operators within standardized and vendor-agnostic architectures

Gather ‘round, tech enthusiasts and eco-warriors! It’s World Environment Day, and while the bees buzz and the trees rustle, today I’d like to illuminate the path towards a sustainable future by exploring the significant strides being made by the wider O-RAN standards in enhancing energy efficiency within mobile networks globally.  

The Energy Gobblers: Mobile Networks and Their Energy Appetite

Our beloved mobile networks—those invisible threads keeping us connected—are also ravenous energy hogs. In the U.S. alone, there are over 400,000 cell towers, consuming power like it’s an endless buffet. Your average 4G base station? It sips a modest 2 to 6 kW, while the 5G beast can chug down anywhere from 3 to 11 kW. Imagine the carbon footprint!

Now, consider this – most of the network cells, around 80%, are lightly loaded most of the time. This presents a tremendous opportunity to conserve energy. How do we harness this opportunity? The key lies in intelligent automation – the ability to dynamically power down components as the load decreases, without compromising the high-quality experience users expect.

O-RAN to the Rescue: The Marvel of Energy Savings

Imagine this: It’s 3 AM. The world is asleep, and so should be our radio networks. By putting radio units into sleep mode during idle periods, O-RAN compliant radios not only cut down energy consumption but also gives those hard-working power amplifiers and power supply unit capacitors a well-deserved break. Less wear and tear mean these components live longer, extending the operational lifespan of the radio hardware. Talk about a win-win!

Decoding the O-RAN Secret Sauce

How do O-RAN compliant radios perform this sorcery? It’s all in the architecture. Open RAN’s open, standardized, disaggregated, vendor-neutral framework is the secret sauce, allowing for widespread adoption and collaborative energy-saving efforts. The O-RAN energy-saving features typically fall into three categories:

  • Idle Mode Energy Savings: During periods of low activity, such as late at night, O-RAN radios intelligently power down radio components, conserving energy without compromising network availability. Sleep mode features that can put an entire radio into an extended standby mode fall into this category.
  • Dynamic Traffic Adaptation: O-RAN radios can dynamically adjust energy usage based on real-time traffic demands. During peak hours, it ensures sufficient power to maintain service quality. During off-peak times, it scales down energy use, enhancing efficiency. For example, the transmission blanking feature would conserve energy by managing the power amplifier voltage during intervals when no data is being transmitted. This can be done at micro second level. 
  • Eco Mode Service: This feature allows the network to operate in a reduced capacity mode when full performance isn’t necessary, achieving significant energy savings. Sizing down carriers to match capacity, shutting off bands, and reducing the order of MIMO arrays on Active Antenna Units are some of the examples of energy saving features in this category.

Mavenir’s OpenBeam O-RAN compliant radios are designed to support these energy-saving features and integrate seamlessly into this innovative framework, ensuring our networks are both smart and sustainable.

The Brains Behind the Operation: AI and Machine Learning

Open RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is where the magic happens. This AI-powered brain not only optimizes energy use but also provides prescriptive insights. Whether it’s Near-Real Time and Non-Real Time, the RIC keeps the network smart and responsive, adapting to ever-changing conditions with finesse.

Traditional RAN: The Dinosaur in the Room

Open-RAN steps into this narrative with a transformative approach, introducing a multi-vendor interface that allows precise control and monitoring to ensure that we’re not just saving power, but also paving the way for a greener, more sustainable network ecosystem.

In stark contrast, traditional RAN struggles with limitations in tracing and correlating user equipment (UE) states due to its centralized, cell-based nature. This method, reliant on Self-Organizing Networks (SON), is not only less efficient but also less capable of maintaining constant, nuanced control.

Open-RAN’s fine-grained approach to UE level data, coupled with its capacity for contextual performance analysis, allows for a more nuanced energy management. It can optimize which cell serves a user most efficiently. This level of detail enables joint optimization of service level agreements alongside energy efficiency, ensuring that every watt of power is purposefully utilized.

Open-RAN is the Future of Energy-Efficient Networks

To sum it up, tracking and optimizing energy efficiency KPIs is not just an operational necessity but a strategic imperative. Open-RAN, with its intelligent RIC, isn’t just reducing energy consumption – it’s leading us to a future where our networks are as smart about power as they are about performance.

As we celebrate World Environment Day, let’s raise a glass (or a solar panel) to O-RAN. This innovative technology is not just cutting down on energy consumption but also extending the life of our network components. By embracing Open-RAN, we’re taking a smart step towards a greener, more sustainable future.

So, here’s to O-RAN compliant radios—the energy-efficient, sustainability champion we didn’t know we needed but can’t live without. Let’s support and develop such innovations, propelling us closer to our environmental goals. Until next time, stay green and connected!

*Blog by Job Benson, SVP & GM, Radio Business Unit, Mavenir

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