As 5G networks require much less energy to transmit the same data as 4G, they are more efficient in the ratio of power consumption to traffic. However, 5G’s higher speed and bandwidth might also increase the number of devices using the network extensively – this could become a problem. In particular, IoT devices with many sensors might be an issue, since they constantly transmit large amounts of information and are not connected to the electrical grid. On the other hand, a sensor that transmits data seldom can do it sporadically in a 5G network, while in 4G environments it has to be transmitting constantly. Likewise, while 5G’s power consumption will require more base stations per square kilometre, these will only need as much power as required – whereas predecessor networks are always “on”.
The 5G industry, as well as academics, are aware of this higher energy consumption, and have proposed the following solutions to be focused on:
- Reducing power consumption when the base station has no data to send by activating a "sleep mode".
- Finding ways to increase hardware efficiency, especially when running below maximum power.
- Significantly increasing the battery life of devices without a connection to the electrical grid, which would need to be achieved by the battery manufacturers.
- Improving energy efficiency during data transmission through a more user-centric system in which transmissions can be specifically tailored to the intended receiver in a flexible and adaptable way.
- Exploring alternative ways of getting energy from the environment, like energy harvesting. This is a process in which energy is generated from ambient environmental sources like solar or wind.