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Why the telecommunications industry needs to invest in a robust power supply to avoid downtime

Richard Reddy

Richard Reddy

Technical Solutions Manager - DC Power at Vertiv
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Power Supply

Richard Reddy, Technical Solutions Manager at Vertiv, highlights the wide reaching impact an outage in the telecommunications industry can have, and why it’s therefore essential to invest in a robust power supply. 

The telecommunications industry is vital to everything from healthcare and transport to the emergency services and defence sector.

It keeps businesses, governments and societies connected and running, and continues to play an intrinsic role in overcoming the economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic.

As such, it has a responsibility to be always fully operational – as any unexpected power disruption to these networks can lead to data loss, businesses losing sales and hours of productivity, and even put lives at risk.

This means understanding the importance of a robust power supply and how best to mitigate risks – whether through battery backups, sensors, internal cellular security or having spare parts – to reduce the likelihood of power outages, downtime and associated damages.

Telecom networks are getting denser

And it’s not only the fallout from the pandemic that has placed added pressure on telecom networks. There are other data demands. Take, for example, the global number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which is set to grow to 43 billion by 2023, according to analysts McKinsey & Company.

In response, telecom networks are becoming ‘denser’ – which means additional cell sites within the existing infrastructure. This is to deliver wider coverage and increased data capabilities, as well as add capacity for hungry data users.

Network operators are also deploying telecom infrastructure assets closer to customers. For example, to support wired and wireless access. Even in places where carriers have sufficient coverage.

One of the world’s largest communications providers is leading this expansion of connectivity services while seeking to maintain uptime. It runs operations in over 180 countries and is heavily investing in 5G, fibre, edge and the migration of its network from analogue to digital to build a converged and smart network.

Its challenge was achieving the highest availability of service while maintaining sustainable operations.

Modernisation operations to accelerate a vision

The company was already accelerating its vision of achieving sustained growth while reducing carbon emissions by investing in energy management projects.

This included the stepping up of its fibre to the premises (FTTP) buildout – to offer higher broadband speeds – with a target of 20 million premises by the end of the decade. And its commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

As part of this mission, the telecommunications provider decided to streamline the power distribution systems across its network of telecom exchange sites.

A key area of focus involved eight of its largest core facilities. The requirements of which included centralising power, increasing power density and capacity, replacing legacy systems, and installing new smart power distribution components.

From DC to High Voltage DC (HVDC)

Telecommunication companies have deployed DC power solutions for decades. Historically, telecom exchanges have operated on -48V DC for reasons of safety, durability, fault tracing and ease of battery integration.

However, modern modems and communication equipment have large power demands which older power systems cannot accommodate. Furthermore, many existing exchanges have limited physical space.

As part of its network upgrade, the provider needed to fit more communication lines and connections into its existing facilities. To accomplish this, the DC equipment was removed and more efficient 380V HVDC units were installed.

Increasing operational power efficiency

Deployment of the HVDC power system reduced the normal transmission current by a factor of eight when compared to the traditional 48V DC systems. The reduction in current increases the flexibility of rearchitecting the exchange site.

In addition, there are plans to utilise the HVDC units in its critical facilities – which are used to prevent downtime and data loss in the case of a power outage.

Along with the HVDC units, the provider uses converter systems to power all existing DC equipment. The combination means the units’ backup system and battery banks can be placed further from the load, which would be tricky and costly with a traditional DC system.

By relocating the power system, the facilities have more floor space for repurposing, including for potential revenue-generating purposes. For example, they could be leased out for additional services like data colocation to local customers or partners.

Operational power efficiency has also increased. Not only is there improved reliability, but upfront expenditures and operating costs are lower.

Monitoring to stay ahead of faults and downtime

In the digital world, real-time monitoring of telecommunication assets helps improve network reliability and availability. By accurately monitoring network loads, the currents going into them, and the batteries that store the power, businesses can improve network performance and uptime.

Modern HVDC units are smart devices that can be monitored remotely via ethernet, modem or serial port from any web browser. This makes the monitoring of full load operations for every circuit across the system easy.

Designed with hot-swapping modules to allow for the replacement of spare parts without taking equipment offline, the units also send out an alert if a fault is occurring.

Diagnostic support through a touchscreen display communicates running status and provides the agility to stay ahead of faults and downtime.

Digital solutions enable a future-proofed, high-efficiency network

Beyond the eight facilities, the provider plans to upgrade between 12 and 20 sites in the next year with the HVDC technology. This forms part of a five-year initiative to re-engineer out-of-date processes and retire legacy services, and early implementations are already showing tangible business benefits.

Future-proofing of network infrastructure

The move from an analogue to a digital network allows the provider to fundamentally change the way it conducts business.

Its customers can better realise IoT benefits, such as electric vehicles, self-driving cars and communicating with new technology in smart homes or smart cities.

By pushing more communications capacity through the same physical space, the provider is also in a better position to accelerate high-speed connectivity for its customers.

And finally, upgrading its power system units allows the provider to easily scale capacity to meet current and future demands for data.

Lower CO2 emissions

The shift from a distributed to a centralised approach for its sites has resulted in the use of more energy-efficient technology that is better for the environment.

Legacy DC distribution equipment offers peak efficiency levels of around 90%. With HVDC units operating at 98% efficiency, the reduction in kWh of energy being consumed means energy savings and lower carbon emissions.

Mitigating disruption

With business and society dependent on telecommunication networks, having a robust and reliable power supply complemented with a fail-safe emergency plan to protect key operating systems is pivotal.

Dependable power supply relies on critical power equipment like UPS, backup battery banks and generators that can respond effectively to extreme weather, unexpected events or human error with steadfast performance.

By mitigating these risks and deploying a quality power supply, providers can deliver the certainty of unbroken communications needed in a post-pandemic world.

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