Insight: New Power Solutions for Denser Networks

 New Power Solutions for Denser Networks

New Power Solutions for Denser Networks

The superior energy density of lithium-ion batteries makes them ideal for power backup in urban areas, where property rents are high and there is a greater need for network density. However, to reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of 5G deployment, mobile network operators (MNOs) need to look into new ways of powering small cell infrastructure.

As the phrase suggests, 5G network densification refers to integrating more cell sites into a given space. In addition to deploying more traditional cell sites, 5G will rely heavily on so called “small cells” being installed on everything from lampposts, traffic lights, supermarkets, to bus stations. The densification will be most evident in urban areas because the more data used in an area, the denser network infrastructure needs to be. Deploying 5G infrastructure is a vast undertaking. To put the massive small cell deployment in perspective, there are roughly 200,000 cell towers in the US today, and analysts believe that more than 800,000 smalls cells will be deployed by 2026.1

Network Densification Challenges
A denser network infrastructure is challenging for MNOs for several reasons. Municipalities are pushing back on where and how many antennas can be installed, citing lack of installation standards and visual pollution concerns. Reports from the US2 and the Nordics3 point to slow and cumbersome processes for application approval to public sites as a key challenge that needs to be addressed for successful network deployment, particularly in urban areas. For example, in California, AT&T reported an 800-day delay for a small cell deployment due to local officials’ scrutiny of antenna designs, radio-frequency exposure, and impacts on property values.4

Another challenge is how to power small cell infrastructure. Whether it is a small cell or macro cell tower, the cost to connect to the power grid is similar. Estimates range from $5,000–$15,000 per location. Tapping power from existing buildings and/or getting municipal approval is an option but it involves time consuming negotiations with building owners, tenants, and local agencies. At the same time, space constraints of small cell sites leave little to no room for energy backup, which will be increasingly important in the hyperconnected world of the 5G era.

Size matters: Save Time and Money
By creating a central node, from which a cluster of neighboring small cells receive power and connectivity, MNOs can save precious time and avoid charges to connect each individual small cell to the grid. At the central node, there is also space for much needed energy backup.

By switching from large, heavy lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion batteries with higher energy density, premises rents can be trimmed. Traditional lead-acid solutions take up considerable floor space. If you compare them side by side, lithium batteries achieve a cell level energy density of 300-750+ Wh/L versus 50-90 Wh/L for lead-acid batteries. Put simply, lead-acid batteries would take up twice the volume that the lithium batteries would and would be four times as heavy. Similarly, the smaller size of the lithium power backup can decrease visual pollution and facilitate the process of acquiring the right permits and gaining access to public infrastructure in the site planning process.

Due to the high energy density of lithium power backup, it should be the solution of choice for MNOs for powering small cell infrastructure. Lithium batteries are, therefore, an enabler for the 5G network deployment, and in turn, the hyperconnected future.

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

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Sources

  1. CTIA: The Wireless Industry – Industry Data, 2021. https://www.ctia.org/the-wireless-industry/infographics-library?topic=22
  2. PWC: Why 5G can’t succeed without a small cell revolution, 2018. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/industry/tmt/assets/5g-small-cell-revolution.pdf
  3. Telenor: Nordic Digital Municipality Index 2020, 2020. https://www.telenor.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Nordic-Digital-Municipality-Index-2020.pdf
  4. The New York Times: 5G Cell Service Is Coming. Who Decides Where It Goes? 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/technology/5g-cellular-service.html

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