A lot of extra 5G towers deployed more thickly could cut a cellular network’s overall energy use by two-thirds and greatly extend the battery life of all phones, according to a New Scientist report.

Specifically, researchers at the University of California said that when mobile phone signals are broadcast from towers in all directions, much of the energy is wasted due to absorption, reflection and scattering. 

“We show in this paper, titled DensQuer, how base station densification, which is to replace a single larger base station with multiple smaller ones, reduces the effect of the last-mile wireless, and in effect conquers both these adverse sources of increased carbon footprint,” Agrim Gupta and his colleagues at the University of California said in a study called Densify and Conquer.

In other words, more small 5G towers more densely deployed could cut both the energy requirements of the mobile network, which have increasingly become a concern in these environmentally conscious times, while also helping to increase the battery life of phones on the network.

We here at Fierce Network very much doubt the general public will love a study proposing that we deploy a lot more small 5G towers.

Look at how New Yorkers have reacted to the deployment of LinkNYC’s small urban 5G towers over the last couple of years. And don’t forget the concerns over the safety of 5G that erupted a few years back. 

We can just imagine the cries of “not in my backyard” that would result if operators proposed rolling out more 5G towers.

Small cell story

Stop us, if you’ve heard this one before! Of course the industry has been banging the drum about network densification for a long time, starting around 2012 if memory serves. Long before 5G was even a thing.

So why haven’t small cells — small self-contained base stations that come in a variety of formats — taken off like they have been expected to? We asked Roy Chua, principal at AvidThink.

“You’re right that many carriers talked about densification with small cells for 5G deployment as a later stage,” he said. “It hasn’t yet because of the time and cost for the deployment of small cells, and the fact that the general public doesn’t like tiny base stations just turning up on the street. These factors would be intensified because the small cell that would best serve this role is a public access small cell, which would need a solid backhaul connection to the macro 5G network.”

Chua has not yet given up on the idea of more 5G small cells arriving over time. The estimates from Crown Castle and other tower companies indicate increased numbers in 2023 deployments and expectations of more in 2024 and 2025, the analyst noted.

“With capex being tight, I could see more small cells being used, especially in urban areas (as the carriers had planned) to see small cells being used to improve coverage and density over the next few years as large tower and macro site investments reduce,” he said.

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