2G networks, to sunset or not to sunset

In recent years, network operators have faced an impressive rise in smartphone numbers, which, in turn, lead to a higher demand of packet-data. A 2015 Cisco report indicated that in 2014 alone mobile data traffic increased with 69% from the previous year. Many mobile carriers have already devised what they call ‘sunset plans’. While things might be a bit easier for subscribers, the situation is more urgent and concerning for M2M and IoT devices. The same Cisco report showed that in 2014 62% of all these intelligent devices were connected to 2G networks.

This is precisely the circumstance in which, in 2012, AT&T announced its decision to discontinue its 2G network to reuse the 850 MHz and 1900MHz spectrum for its 3G and 4G deployments.

However, AT&T is not the only operator in this situation. In Singapore, for example, all the nation’s operators (M1, SingTel  and StarHub)  will no longer provide 2G services by the end of 2016. From the 15 of September 2015 mobile dealers will stop registering 2G-only mobile devices. Similarly, the 2G spectrum will be reused for 3G and 4G services.

Telstra, the Australian carrier, has the same 2G decommissioning deadline as the operators mentioned above, since sales on 2G devices have dropped dramatically and 2G data traffic represents less than 1% of the network’s whole traffic.

It’s easy to see why some operators chose to discontinue their 2G deployments, yet these are still the best networks to provide for low-power IoT devices. To them it is old, very few subscribers are based solely in these networks and current data traffic rates demand for spectrum reuse. However, 2G is far from being obsolete. Telematics applications, smart meters, sensors, credit card transaction processors and the IoT lot demand low-bandwidth connectivity.  IoT needs an inexpensive, ubiquitous and consistent network and 2G is still the most suited technology for it.

2g_iotTherefore, the accelerated growth of intelligent connected devices will bring all the more revenues to mobile operators in the future. Early adopters of M2M and IoT technologies represent the group who will be affect the most by a potential sunset of 2G networks. Migrating their devices to 3G or 4G will be costly and time consuming. What’s more, the IoT business operating in rural areas will scramble to find viable connectivity solutions because 2G is still the most reliable technology in isolated and remote areas.

Furthermore, there are still mobile operators in the Western countries who can’t seem to get enough of their 2G networks. Take operators like EE, Vodafone, O2 and 3 in the UK; these carries are set to keep their 2G deployments up and running as long as there are still plenty of isolated areas which are solely covered by the reliable second generation technology. Ensuring an almost total coverage in the British Isles is only possible with 2G networks. Not to mention the cases in urban areas in which subscribers performing voice calls are moved to 2G when 3G data traffic is more demanding.

An Ovum 2015 report states that in some markets 3G networks are in fact more likely to shut down before 2G ones. Nicole McCormick, a senior analyst at Ovum concluded that: “2G is still an important source of revenue. LTE provides a better mobile broadband experience than 3G, and with VoLTE, LTE can handle the voice responsibilities of 3G. This points to the possibility that operators opt to close their 3G networks before they close 2G.” A relevant example pointing to this line of reasoning is Telenor Norway who decided to safeguard its 2G network for their M2M market and who will discontinue its 3G network by 2020.

It’s safe to assume 2G is here to stay because the world still needs it. From communities in developing countries to the whole IoT and M2M market, there isn’t quite any other communications technology like it.

Off to greener networks

Going green is not just good for the environment, it’s also good for mobile operators.

It is common knowledge that the share of energy drives the largest costs in mobile network deployments – about 50% of the total OPEX in emerging markets. While diesel power systems play a large part in the high level of expenditure, according to a 2014 GSMA Green Power for Mobile report, they account today for nearly 90% of power solutions used in off-grid and unreliable grid sites.

Operational fuel costs, logistics (transportation, depositing), diesel pilferage – which alone increases costs with about 15%-20%, the need for continual service in areas where power outages are frequent, all add up to operators’ investment and operational expenditure, reflecting eventually in a higher service cost for users and therefore in a drop in use of mobile services.

green power SatSite

60% of the overall network infrastructure costs is attributable to building and powering cell towers [1], so saving on energy requires the choice of equipment that uses makes a more efficient use of power resources.

Deploying cell sites using green energy is easy when using a base station like SatSite, which requires a low power input (45W) and is ideal for installing in remote areas with unstable or no electrical grids. Cell towers using SatSite in either single or 3-sector configuration are a lightweight deployment which allows it to serve isolated or remote locations, relying only on the existing natural resources.

SatSite’s design differentiates from that of traditional base station by integrating a passive cooling system that makes its use independent from air conditioning or ventilation units. The power required for air conditioning makes up for a large part of the overall input needed to run operate a site. Eliminating air conditioning also frees up space to make cell towers more resilient.

Over diesel power systems, solar panels and wind turbines, for example, have a much longer life expectancy, that can range to 20-25 years. Combined with diesel power in hybrid energy systems, operators can achieve a longer and more reliable operation of cell towers, driving down fuel costs to save more than $10 billion annually.

Shifting to green towers has major implications. First, it reduces operators’ costs and allows them to extend mobile networks in places in areas that are completely deprived of coverage due to the lack of an adequate infrastructure. Then, it reduces the negative effects on environment; GSMA reports that an off-grid site in Africa has an average annual consumption of 13,000 litres of diesel, adding as much as 35 tons of CO2 emissions to the environment.

If they choose green energy for telecom towers in remote areas, operators must move to smaller, more autonomous cell sites; profitability will come not only from power savings and a rise in service use, but also from reshaping the overall network infrastructure to better manage power factors.

 

[1] Telecom infrastructure sharing, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Telecom_infrastructure_sharing&oldid=624429583 (last visited June 10, 2015).

Off-grid technologies for sustainable mobile network deployments

Energy costs amount to 15% up to 50% of the total OPEX of deploying mobile networks in areas without power grid. Operators in developing countries, as those in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, need cost-effective solutions to face this issue, otherwise they will find it impossible to install new networks.

When we first heard about Tesla’s latest innovation we were impressed. It seemed the perfect solution for what households need right now. But then we gave it more thought and realized that Powerwall batteries are also an answer for mobile operators. We now know they would make a great match with our SatSite base stations.

Depending on the type of deployment, cell sites equipped with SatSite units have the following average consumption levels:

  • lightweight site, with omni antenna – approximately 45 Watts
  • three-sector site – less than 150 Watts
  • three-sector site with tower mounted booster – approximately 350 Watts

tesla_SatSite

A Tesla Powerwall battery offers either 7 or 10 kWh power output, is rechargeable with aid from solar panels and can be mounted indoors and outdoors. It also has a 10 years warranty and requires no additional maintenance costs. A single 7 kWh battery is enough for running 3 SatSite units.

Recent initiatives, like GSMA’s Green Power for Mobile, have stressed the importance of deploying network infrastructures powered by green energy (in most cases solar) in developing areas and regions beyond the electrical grid.

Since both equipments can be powered by solar panels we consider this pairing an easy and seamless solution, particularly in areas where connection to the electricity grid is an issue. It can also successfully replace diesel-powered telecom towers, reducing costs and environmental pollution.

Not only does this solution work well in rural or isolated areas, but it would be a great fit for urban areas in developing nations that have an unreliable power grid. Cell towers equipped with SatSite base stations could use Powerwall batteries as a dependable and renewable backup plan in case of power outage. National blackouts affecting hundreds of millions of people, like those in India (2012), Turkey (2015) or United States (2003), will no longer restrict vital mobile communications if operators choose self-sustaining power alternatives.