Ericsson Canada is collaborating with academics on a program to explore how AI can be used to minimize the energy consumption from 5G networks with the aim of helping communications providers reduce their carbon footprint and operational costs.
Ericsson’s Global Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (GAIA) in Montreal will support the three-year research project in close collaboration with seven professors and 27 researchers from Ecole de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), Concordia University and Polytechnique Montréal.
"We (GAIA) are a part of Ericsson, and Ericsson Canada more specifically," said Prasad Garigipati, the head of GAIA in Montreal. "We have a very strong tradition of doing research, both fundamental and also applied research, and we have strong university relationships over the last 30 to 40 years."
The program is also supported by contributions from the Quebec government through InnovÉÉ - Innovation en Énergie Électrique and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Ericsson (ERIC-Q) was founded in 1874 in Stockholm. Its Canadian headquarters are in Mississauga, where it provides 5G infrastructure products and services for Bell, EastLink, Rogers, TBAYTEL, TELUS, Videotron and Xplornet as well as live 5G commercial networks across the country. It is most well-known for inventing Bluetooth technology and today operates in over 180 countries.
There are GAIA hubs in the U.S., Sweden and India. The Montreal hub was created in May 2019 with an initial team of 30 data scientists, engineers, AI/machine learning architects and software developers.
The Ericsson Canada 5G program
The program was born out of a 2021 call for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in Quebec. Previously, research had been done in isolation at a more individual level, such as focusing on carbon reduction at the device level as opposed to the network or the cloud, Garigipati explained.
From there, this current program took about eight or nine months to come together from its inception. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) will also lend its expertise.
He singled out ECCC for its expertise in GHG emissions modeling in sectors like transportation.
"With 5G and the next generation of wireless technologies that are going to come into existence, there is a heavy demand. To a certain degree, we are fortunate to have a little bit low-cost in Quebec in that perspective," Garigipati said. "But on a global basis, research needs to be done in that context and how we can demonstrate our leadership, Quebec and Ericsson."
The company's latest report published this month, titled Breaking the Energy Curve 2022, states energy consumption is responsible for 20 to 40 per cent of operational expenditure for communications service providers. Ericsson’s research shows that if the entire information and communications technology industry switched to renewable energy sources for all of its electricity requirements, the carbon footprint could be reduced by 80 per cent.
The first edition of the report from 2020 estimated the annual global energy cost of running mobile networks to be at $34.3 billion.
According to Huawei, the typical 5G site has power needs of over 11.5 KW, up nearly 70 per cent from a base station deploying a mix of 2G, 3G and 4G radios.
Ericsson has set a 2030 goal of reducing supply chain and portfolio emissions by 50 per cent and to be net-zero in its own activities at the same time. It is targeting a 2040 net-zero goal across all its operations.
In the nearer-term, it plans to reduce the energy consumption of a typical new site by approximately 40 per cent between now and 2025. Gurigipati hopes this program contributes to that goal.
"The network coverage requirements of 5G will be much more different than what we have seen in 3G, 4G. We potentially will see a lot more sites and base stations because of the frequency, the coverage requirements and the data speeds it provides," he explained.
"So there is going to be a spike in the power consumption directly contributing to the carbon emissions. So it is extremely important for us, whether it is 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 15 per cent, whatever, we need to go and work on that to reduce it."
According to Ericsson’s research, mobile networks represent about 0.2 per cent of global carbon emissions and 0.6 per cent of global electricity use.
While no telecommunications providers were singled out, Garigipati hopes that in the third year of the program, the GAIA team will be able to apply their research for those in Canada and beyond.