Measuring Energy Use in Virtualized Radio Access Networks (vRANs): how to address sustainability concerns

Published in March 2024, the latest report article by the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN) focuses on the measurement of energy consumption in virtualised Radio Access Networks (vRANs) and offers key recommendations to the industry to address sustainability concerns for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and their supply chains.

Putting the report into context

Measuring energy consumption in vRANs is crucial for several reasons:  

  1. Lowering energy consumption supports sustainability goals, as laid down in the  European Green Deal and the UN SDGs: tracking energy usage in vRANs helps MNOs reduce their environmental impact. Energy usage impacts network performance, and thus, monitoring helps identify and address issues affecting performance, ensuring optimal operation. 
  2. Service Reliability: since high energy usage can affect service quality, monitoring consumption ensures networks are available and reliable. 
  3. Regulatory Compliance: Many countries and regions have strict energy efficiency regulations, including the EU Green Deal. Measuring consumption helps operators meet these requirements, avoiding penalties. 
  4. Efficient Resource Allocation. Understanding usage patterns enables effective resource management, ensuring resources meet demand while minimizing costs 

Who benefits besides direct stakeholders, i.e., telecom suppliers and MNOs? Customers indirectly benefit from energy-efficient vRANs through potentially lower service costs and environmental impact. Regulatory authorities also do: measurement of energy usage in vRANs provides data for compliance and enforcement of regulations. 

What are the report’s main takeaways?

The publication’s key recommendations are the following: 

  1. Enhance current frameworks for estimating energy consumption by Virtual Network Function (VNF)/Cloud Network Function (CNF) on shared IT/Cloud infrastructure. 
  2. Recommendations to Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) to accelerate the development of enhanced frameworks. 
  3. Utilization of dedicated tools for real-time and accurate estimations of IT-infrastructure performance and power consumption. 
  4. The influence of operating models on MNOs’ ability to manage performance and energy consumption of vRAN functions, suggesting potential API usage between Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) and MNOs. 

This report aligns telecom architectural frameworks and requirements with IT supplier solutions, including identifying the following: 

  1. leading standard for managing COTS hardware (Redfish® by DMTF);  
  2. Open-source tools currently offering most reliable measurements for VNFs/CNFs’ energy consumption (like Kepler & Prometheus); and  
  3. That outsourcing-focused operating models actually impact MNOs’ ability to manage vRAN functions’ performance and energy usage. 

The publication also emphasizes strategic focus areas: 

  1. Route to Disaggregation: leading in the development of open, disaggregated, virtualized and cloud native solutions with a focus on the E2E Operating Model. 
  2. Green Future Networks: developing sustainable and environmentally conscious solutions 
  3. 6G: anticipating the emergence of 6G by highlighting key technological trends and societal requirements, as well as outlining use cases, requirements, and design considerations to address them 

 In conclusion, telecom suppliers and MNOs have specific needs, and standardization allows global interoperability. Looking ahead, future research should concentrate on improving the view at the service level to ensure applications run efficiently in terms of performance and energy usage. 

 Interested in learning more about how we are building a world where sustainability is an integral part of technology and digital development? 

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