Keep Your Network Up and Running in the 5G Era

6th July, 2021

In the hyperconnected world of the 5G era, connectivity must never be lost. Mobile network operators (MNOs) need to turn uncertainty into predictability by replacing lead-acid with smart, modern lithium power backup solutions.

5G networks are reliant on a constant supply of power. In the event of a 5G network failure, the entire ecosystem of connected devices could collapse. Autonomous vehicles, drones, and other driverless technologies could come to a standstill, people could be locked out of their smart homes, and municipal infrastructure could stop working. Large sections of society and the economy could grind to a halt.

Even devices or machinery that do not rely on a continuous flow of electricity, those with built-in power storage or generation capacity, could go down in the event of a power outage – not directly because of the blackout itself but because they rely on 5G disabled by the blackout.

First, evidence suggests that climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather such as heatwaves and severe storms straining critical infrastructure and making power outages more likely.1 Second, given the pace of power-grid digitization, the threat of cyberattack-induced blackouts will probably grow in the years ahead. In 2019, the European Union released a coordinated risk assessment of cybersecurity of 5G networks, which highlighted the dependency of 5G on power grids and their vulnerability to cyberattacks.2

Switch to Lithium for a More Reliable Source of Power Backup
In most markets, telecom operators are bound by spectrum licenses to provide backup capacity for a given amount of time. This typically varies from 4-8 hours, or more for more critical sites. Requirements for operators to deliver constant uptime and robust network infrastructure are likely to increase in the 5G era. As are the expected penalties and churn of subscribers in the event of network failure. Today, lead-acid batteries are the dominant technology used for power backup. But lead-acid is an old, unintelligent, and unreliable technique.

The lack of intelligence in lead-acid batteries has major drawbacks. First, the state of charge in the battery is difficult to predict with accuracy, meaning actual backup time is virtually unknown. Whereas the status and lifetime expectancy of a lithium battery can be remotely monitored and managed, turning uncertainty to predictability for MNOs. Secondly, lead-acid batteries are less robust in how they are used and are often designed for very specific applications. If used improperly, e.g., by utilizing a higher depth-of-discharge than designed for or at an elevated temperature, they will degrade fast. Thirdly, the shelf-life of lead-acid batteries is significantly shorter compared to lithium-ion batteries. Lead-acid batteries generally have a shelf-life of six months, in contrast to lithium-ion batteries which offer several years’ shelf-life.

Lastly, since lithium-ion batteries are equipped with a battery-management system (BMS) they are protected from misuse, e.g., over-currents, reverse polarity, or over-voltage which are harmful to batteries. For lead-acid, these conditions will permanently damage the battery, causing premature failure. A Ponemon Research study found that lead-acid battery failure is the most frequent cause of unplanned data center outages, beating out other causes such as human error, exceeding capacity, cyberattacks, bad weather incidents, etc. The study found that as many as 55 percent of unplanned outages were related to lead-acid battery failure.3

The world is going to be more connected than ever, and neither MNOs nor society can afford to lose connectivity. Enabling the transition to 5G therefore becomes a question of enabling a reliable power backup. Lead-acid batteries, with its shortcomings in predictability and shelf-life, is an inappropriate technology to support this transition. By switching to lithium-ion batteries, MNOs can go from uncertainty to predictability, enabling them to focus on achieving their desired position in the 5G space, without worrying about blackouts.

Want to know more about how to rethink power backup in the 5G era? Download the full report!

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  1. The Atlantic: Revenge of the Power Grid, 2019.
  2. European Commission: Member States publish a report on EU coordinated risk assessment of 5G networks security, 2019.
  3. Data Center Frontier: Energy Storage: Lead-acid Versus Lithium-Ion Batteries, 2018.



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