NGMN pushes for vRAN energy consumption standards

A new report from the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance gets to grips with the tricky issue of measuring energy consumption in virtualised networks.

Nick Wood

April 5, 2024

3 Min Read

According to the industry group, standards bodies ETSI and 3GPP are well on top of the situation when it comes to purpose-built, also known as 'traditional', RAN equipment. But the same cannot be said of the emerging world of virtualised network functions (VNFs) and cloud-native network functions (CNFs) hosted on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.

This metering gap, as the NGMN Alliance calls it, needs to be closed, but in a standardised fashion that makes it straightforward for MNOs to integrate real-time consumption monitoring into their operational environments.

"Sustainability is a considerable concern for MNOs and their customers," said Laurent Leboucher, NGMN Alliance board member and CTO of Orange. "Accurate measurement of energy usage in our networks and associated carbon emissions is essential."

Indeed, just this week, Austria auctioned 5G spectrum licences that permit operators to switch off the frequencies during off-peak hours. And at February's Mobile World Congress (MWC), a GSMA report highlighted the regional differences when it comes to reducing telco carbon emissions.

While operators make much of their sustainability efforts, they tend to do so without really going into the nuts and bolts of how they actually go about it. NGMN's report, called Green Future Networks: Metering in Virtualised RAN Infrastructure, offers a window into the complexity of tackling vRAN power consumption.

"Addressing the challenge of managing and minimising energy consumption is paramount within our industry," said NGMN Alliance chairman Arash Ashouriha, who also serves as SVP, group technology, at Deutsche Telekom. "Through this publication, the NGMN Alliance delivers vital recommendations for industry standards, facilitating more precise and real-time estimations of energy consumed by virtualised or cloud-native network functions."

The report (PDF) reckons the Redfish standard – a protocol and API used for managing servers, IT networks, storage devices and so-on – could be leveraged to deliver the granular, real-time, network-wide energy usage measurements that operators are crying out for. It also suggests that open-source tools for determining power consumption, like Kepler (Kubernetes-based efficient power level exporter) and the Prometheus toolkit for systems monitoring and alerting, could also prove useful.

NGMN also thinks there is room for improvement in 3GPP's energy consumption estimation frameworks so they more accurately reflect the energy performance of VNF/CNFs.

The report also acknowledges the challenges faced by MNOs that have outsourced their network operations through RAN-sharing arrangements and the like, and suggests that APIs might be used to expose power consumption metrics.

Generally speaking, standardisation is a long, arduous task that typically requires coordinating multiple stakeholders involved with multiple working groups. While progress can be frustratingly slow at times, it is the best way of ensuring compatibility, cohesion and a functioning ecosystem.

So, as telcos push on with improvements to the energy and emissions performance of their networks, the time to start tackling these challenges is now.

"Bringing together the industry to tackle our shared challenges, unlocking opportunities and providing crucial guidance to the industry is NGMN's core mission," said Anita Doehler, CEO of the NGMN Alliance. "This publication further advances the industry's capacity to deploy disaggregated, virtualised and cloud-native architectures, all while effectively managing energy consumption and environmental impact."

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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