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Harnessing HVDC for 5G networks and data centre reliability

Image: Adobe Stock/ TimeStopper

As 5G networks continue to expand and become increasingly essential for modern businesses and industries, the need for reliable and efficient power solutions also grows.

And, with this pressing challenge, High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology is emerging as a key solution, offering a range of advantages for effectively powering critical infrastructure. 

The global market for HVDC systems had a market size of around 8.85 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to reach 17.23 billion USD by 2027, registering a CAGR of more than 8.68% during 2022 to 2027.

So, what are the specific benefits that HVDC technology offers for 5G networks – and more broadly for the data centre industry? Why is it becoming a crucial solution for data centre reliability and 5G network operations?

Increasing capacity and freeing up space

HVDC technology has many advantages that make it a suitable choice for powering both parts of the 5G network and the data centres that support them.

Most pressingly, by using HVDC systems, telcos can free up valuable floor space for the necessary equipment to support the growing 5G infrastructure and meet the increased demand for data and communication capabilities. 

When discussing the benefits of HVDC technology, it’s important to note that one of its key advantages is its ability to transmit power at higher voltage than 48V DC. This allows for more power to be transmitted over the same distance using much smaller cables. 

For example, in a large core telecom site, legacy -48V DC systems have been traditionally used – for reasons of safety, durability (lack of cathodic corrosion), fault tracing, and easy battery integration. However, these systems (sometimes several systems) need to be placed relatively close to the communication equipment and still require large, bulky cables that take up a significant amount of floor space.

With HVDC technology, it’s possible to implement backup solutions, which allow for the movement of batteries and power systems to more remote locations such as basements, freeing up a significant amount of ‘white space’ for servers and transmission gear. Thinner, longer copper cables used for HVDC then replace bulky -48V cables, providing cost savings and more configuration flexibility whilst guaranteeing minimal losses. All this also means that telco operators can have more flexibility if they need to plan for future expansion and growth.

The implementation of HVDC technology at large sites saves space and enables much higher power capacity. Hence it offers the key benefit of increased computing capacity. This is particularly important for telco core sites and edge locations that support the data needs of 5G networks. Ultimately, by pushing more communications capacity through the same physical space, with HVDC, telco providers are in a better position to accelerate high speed connectivity and increase capacity on behalf of customers.

Fewer interruptions and reduced CO2 emissions

Another advantage of HVDC technology is that it is less susceptible to power interruptions and outages than many UPS systems that are normally used to power data centres. This is because the HVDC system has fewer conversion stages and the battery is always connected directly to the load, so the battery is always available to support the load in case of any power interruption, which increases overall system availability. Additionally, with few conversion stages, HVDC technology minimises inefficiency and losses.

HVDC already supports some providers’ ongoing pursuit of reducing energy consumption. For example, one telco organisation reports that whilst its legacy DC distribution equipment had peak efficiency levels of around 90%, new installations, including HVDC equipment, operate at up to 98% efficiency, drastically reducing the kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy being consumed and lowering CO2 emissions.

Powering the race for 5G

According to Brian Partridge, Research VP, 451 Research, “5G represents the most impactful and difficult network upgrade ever faced by the telecom industry.” And naturally, operators are investing heavily in their 5G networks and infrastructure – both in terms of equipment and capacity – to meet these challenges.

As 5G technology continues to grow, so does the need for more and larger radio and edge sites. This increase in the number of access points requires additional equipment to support the increased amount of data. Utilising HVDC systems in large sites will help to meet the increased demand for data and communication capabilities required by the growing number of 5G sites.

And importantly, HVDC allows for the integration of renewable energy sources – most often solar – and the ability to feed power from different sources into a common grid. This enables operators to make the best use of available resources and increase the penetration of renewable energy.

A bright future

It is evident that High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology is a powerful solution for supplying power to both 5G networks and the data centres that support them.

HVDC technology is well-suited to support the power and computing equipment needed at core sites and data centres. This technology is particularly useful for large sites, but its application can also be beneficial for all types of sites in order to support the expanding 5G infrastructure. Utilising HVDC systems can help meet the increased demands of 5G networks and ensure smooth operation of data centres.

Picture of Henrik Nilen
Henrik Nilen
Director, Global DC Power Offering at Vertiv

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