Sustainability: ensuring mobile infrastructure continues to blossom

Cherry blossom tree

At this time of year, it is hard not to be touched by nature. The weather has at last turned sunny and we have been treated, in the UK at least, to a fantastic show of blossom throughout April and May.  

Our impact on the natural world around us has very much been present in some of the projects worked on by the Real Wireless team recently, and the rising interest in the sustainability of wireless infrastructure.  

April saw the presentation of some of our work on the sustainability of advanced mobile infrastructure as part of the TrialsNet project. Dr Hassan Osman, who has been leading Real Wireless’ TrialsNet involvement, travelled to IEEE WCNC in Dubai to share work on the project. The presented paper focused on assessing the “value” delivered by mobile infrastructure and emerging frameworks to quantify value via so-called Key Value Indicators (KVIs), with more details in Hassan’s blog.  

The theme of sustainability was evident this month, at a 3GPP workshop on IMT2030 use cases, being held as part of 3GPP’s task to define 6G requirements. The workshop included strong representations, such as the European view on 6G use cases presented by Gustav  Wikström, that the requirements for future mobile infrastructure need to drive 6G technologies towards those that improve sustainability and value generation.  

Sustainability and value, in this sense, are intended to go beyond traditional environmental sustainability, or commercial value and to consider the three dimensions of economic, environmental and societal value creation and sustainability. This echoes the clear change in direction and priorities set for 6G (by both public bodies and the mobile industry alike) away from data rate and capacity-driven targets and more towards power consumption, lifecycle management and rural coverage targets. 

While this change in direction in terms of how innovations in mobile infrastructure are being directed by targets and assessed feels new, the tension between the commercial viability of mobile infrastructure and its ability to deliver wider socio-economic value is something that we have been highlighting at Real Wireless for some time. Indeed, the first and second European Horizon research projects involving Real Wireless, 5G NORMA and 5G-MoNArch, included our techno-economic analysis of 5G in city settings. These highlighted the commercial viability of 5G for consumer-centric connectivity services and high-value industrial use cases with clear operational impact, such as in the Port of Hamburg.  

We also quantified the benefits of reusing such infrastructure for smart city services and the high-value socio-economic value of such services. However, the low willingness to pay meant that such use cases would not be commercially viable demonstrating a clear tension between commercial/economic sustainability and delivering sustainable societal value. 

We have also been growing our capability in the environmental dimension of sustainability, with a number of our projects, including Proteus, REASON and MoRTEC which now include detailed modelling of power consumption in mobile infrastructure and consideration of how connectivity choices impact progress towards Net Zero targets.  

With many projects in progress at Real Wireless we have been nurturing this growth by actively expanding the team. Part of this has included welcoming Shruthi Koratagere Anantha Kumar as a techno-economic analyst to the Real Wireless pool of expertise. Shruthi recently completed her PhD studies at the University of Strathclyde on “5G Network Slicing for Rural Connectivity: Multi-Tenancy in Wireless Networks”. Her passion is to develop an understanding of cost-effective strategies for rural connectivity to help overcome digital divides. You can read more about Shruthi’s views on rural connectivity in her contribution to this month’s newsletter. 

Understanding sustainability and value in wireless infrastructure is undeniably an area of growing interest to governments, policy-makers and the mobile industry.

The skills developed in our recent projects will complement and build upon our past ones and equip Real Wireless to help the industry find the natural balance that will keep it blossoming for many springs to come.