“6G will enable significant energy savings compared to current mobile networks”


The new paradigm of 6G networks controlled by artificial intelligence will make the networks more dynamic by, for example, authorising radio receivers to switch on and off according to traffic demand. This will enable energy savings that, in some scenarios, could exceed 50% compared to current 5G networks. This is one of the first conclusions of the European research project BeGREEN, in which Miguel Catalán, senior researcher of the i2CAT Foundation’s Mobile Wireless Internet research area, participates. Coinciding with World Environment Day, celebrated today, this expert assures that the 6G technology will be more sustainable by design, thanks to introducing new intelligent network control strategies that increase energy savings without affecting the user experience.

BeGREEN is a research project funded by the European Commission with almost 5 million euros under the Horizon Europe funding programme. The project consortium involves 12 European entities, including large mobile operators such as Telefónica and British Telecom, mobile network component manufacturers such as Ericsson and NEC, and research institutions such as i2CAT and the Technical University of Catalonia. The project aims to develop an energy-efficient and sustainable mobile network architecture.

In the project’s first phase, which is now in the middle of the execution period, the i2CAT research staff has developed its research based on real data from a mobile operator. By implementing network optimisations based on artificial intelligence systems and the new Open RAN architectures, they have been able to evaluate scenarios where it is possible to achieve an energy saving of between 50% and 60% on the radio part compared to the current system. “Nowadays, what we have seen is that we have a network that is over-dimensioned. Artificial intelligence introduces the possibility of adapting its consumption more efficiently. Thanks to predictions, we can know the number of people using the network at any given moment, depending, for example, on the time of day or the events planned for a given date. This will allow us to dynamically switch radio stations on or off depending on demand and, at the same time, improve the efficiency of the network to guarantee the new services that 6G will initially bring without the need to deploy new stations”. In this sense, he explains that integrating technologies such as Intelligent Reconfigurable Surfaces (RIS) or non-terrestrial networks will also play a fundamental role.

Digital Sobriety

One of the terms being worked on in the mobile networks research is digital sobriety, which has to do with the possibilities that 6G will offer users to make decisions on using the network sustainably. “The 6G will allow energy to be another criterion of the mobile network. This means that the user will be able, for example, to actively decide to reduce the quality of service at a given moment to consume less energy. They will also be able to choose a service based solely on renewable energy and monitor the consumption of a specific application or service,” explains Catalán. According to the researcher, this paradigm shift will have a significant impact on the strategies of mobile operators and service producers, who will have to adapt their offers to the level of demand of their customers.

At the same time, Miguel Catalán predicts that the 6G will have an accelerating effect on sustainability in most industrial sectors. “In the field of research, work is being done on different use cases focused on this low energy consumption to improve, among other industries, industries such as food, mobility, and logistics. We are also developing new metaverse services, which could save us a lot of travel in the future,” he explains.

Europe, the leader in the research for sustainable networks

On a global scale, Europe is leading the research for deploying more sustainable mobile networks compared to other technological giants such as China and the United States. In addition to projects such as BeGREEN, which focuses on energy efficiency, other European research projects are studying different aspects to reach a zero-carbon target that guarantees the sustainability of a model that foresees strong data traffic growth through millions of devices worldwide. “We could say that Europe is currently leading the way in sustainability on a global scale in the field of telecommunications”, concludes the researcher.