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EE Deploy Cell Sleep to Boost Energy Savings of UK 4G Mobile Network

Monday, Jun 24th, 2024 (9:50 am) - Score 5,560

Mobile operator EE (BT) has today announced that they’ve deployed “cell sleep” technology across their UK 4G (mobile broadband) network, which they “anticipate” could deliver total energy savings of up to 4.5m KWh per year – reducing both their demand on the local grid and helping to cut costs at a time of high electricity prices.

The announcement, which follows shortly after Three UK promoted a similar development (here), states that their new “cell sleep” software works by putting certain 4G (LTE) capacity carriers to sleep when the capacity is not needed – based on predicted periods of low traffic which have been established for each site through machine learning.

NOTE: BT has set a target of being Net Zero (i.e. removing as many carbon emissions as they produce) for its own operational emissions by March 2031, but their supply chain and customer emissions won’t follow until 2040.

The system then automatically wakes up during busy periods, and is also configured to react to unexpected surges which might occur during scheduled sleep modes – in which event, the carriers wake up within a matter of seconds to serve demand without any interruption to customers.

The setup also supports an even lower power state, called “deep sleep“, which can be activated if required, such as during overnight periods of extremely low demand. According to BT, the technology is expected to deliver energy savings of up to 2 KWh per site per day, or 4.5m KWh per year across EE’s estate.

Greg McCall, Chief Networks Officer at BT Group, said:

“There is huge potential for energy savings across our networks by dynamically matching power consumption against network usage. The optimisation and roll-out of cell sleep technology to over 19,500 sites across the UK is a significant milestone in achieving this, and an important development in countering the massive growth in data consumption we’re seeing across our networks.”

The move complements the operator’s recent 3G switch-off, which is claimed to deliver energy savings of 17.44m KWh per year. Not to mention that EE has also been deploying more energy-efficient Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, such as ultra-lightweight Massive MIMO technology, which they claim uses up to 40% less energy than the previous generation of kit.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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33 Responses
  1. Avatar photo L1 says:

    So effectively the network is becoming unfriendly for mobile broadband users….

    The network isn’t going to wake up for a few users say downloading a large update or during the night, I know this as I was covered by an EE mast with this enabled and of a night I lost 4 of 6 bands of 4G available.

    So why is 5G worth investment if its not going to have the service behind it available to customers,

  2. Avatar photo Tim says:

    This has been a problem for a while. Midnight to ~7am some bands get turned off. There is no automatic reconnection to these bands. So a disconnect reconnect is required just after 7am every day to restore full speed on mobile broadband.

    1. Avatar photo spurple says:

      Sounds like a software problem on your device though. One could assume that your device manufacturer should be working on a fix if you let them know.

    2. Avatar photo meritez says:

      Agreed, a mobile client informs the mast at point of connection what it is capable of connecting to, and the mast advises what is available.
      The mast would need to send a cell broadcast to every device when the other bands are available and the mobile clients would probably need to restart the connection anyway.

  3. Avatar photo htmm says:

    “4.5m KWh”

    4.5 milli kilowatt-hours? Didn’t they mean 4.5 GWh instead?

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      since you appear to like technicalities, you only capitalise the actual unit (the “W”)

    2. Avatar photo htmm says:

      Anonymus, that’s incorrect, the Si prefixes are case-sensitive.
      Examples: m: milli, M: mega, G: giga (yes, capitalised)
      For more examples: https://www.nist.gov/pml/owm/metric-si-prefixes

      This is now offtopic, but yes, I do like technicalities.

    3. Avatar photo Bob says:

      And to add, the W as a unit is capitalised because it is named after a person. The meter (m) is not named after Mrs Meter and is therefore a lower case m.

  4. Avatar photo Phil says:

    Sleep mode 12am to 7am is very bad idea – especially those disability or disabled who need emergency sign video via 999 call. It’s need mobile data if the home broadband went downtime. Time to raise a complaint to Ofcom about this.

    1. Avatar photo Chris says:

      You’ve misunderstood Phil… they don’t turn off the whole network, they just turn off radio channels that aren’t being used to full capacity in the small hours of the morning.

      Signal will still be there….

      You also didn’t read this bit:

      “The system then automatically wakes up during busy periods, and is also configured to react to unexpected surges which might occur during scheduled sleep modes – in which event, the carriers wake up within a matter of seconds to serve demand without any interruption to customers.”

    2. Avatar photo Nate says:

      I think you’re drastically overestimating how much bandwidth is needed for a video call.

    3. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Your default response shouldn’t be I MUST COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS!!

      Take the time to understand the technology and learn why it is a good thing. I know you want to be permanently enraged by absolutely everything, but please, just relax a little bit.

    4. Avatar photo AD says:

      Unless they’re in a very bad signal area I think this is a non-issue. Even 1-2mbps is enough for a basic video call and like the article said the bands to kick back in depending on use.

      Even in poor signal conditions I can get a comfortable 10-20mbps from EE

    5. Avatar photo Ian says:

      EE should be shut down and broken up for this, its a complete scandal. People are going to die.

  5. Avatar photo Lucian says:

    O2 does this as well, night time speeds 30mbps..

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Ah but yes… I don’t need evidence and a need to understand proven technology when I can complain to Ofcom instead…

    2. Avatar photo L1 says:

      lmao, O2 bashing has become an infestation on this domain now… every singles topic has you all poking fun…. not saying it isn’t justified btw.

    3. Avatar photo Vlad says:

      O2 don’t do high capacity bands, at least not on a widespread basis, so the savings they see will be inconsequential compared to the likes of EE. Were they to shut bands down, they’d have no service!

  6. Avatar photo anon says:

    yeah this is why i get poor speeds at night on three.
    they also turn off 5G, quite sure of it. this is why im not ever going back to mobile networks

  7. Avatar photo Vince says:

    Lol, ‘machine learning’ and ‘AI’ is just being used to describe stuff we’ve been doing for years in all kinds of technologies. I wonder how much energy all the ‘AI’ and ‘machine learning’ to do that uses…

    …assuming it is actually that and not just some normal stuff dressed up as magic because that’s the new buzzword.

  8. Avatar photo Rik says:

    So does this mean that users with fewer EE or MVNO customers may potentially find themselves without signal or suffering extremely degraded performance at night?

    I’m all for saving energy but if people are going to be cut off at various times of the day, we should have a decreased bill to compensate (like that will happen).

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      Why are you just making stuff up? The article explains everything very clearly.

  9. Avatar photo Anon says:

    I don’t have a problem with this as long it’s dynamic and gets back online if usage increase.

    The problem is that in some areas, both EE and Three turn off bands based on time, not load…

  10. Avatar photo Spotify95 says:

    Nothing new here, nothing exciting – Vodafone already does this. My local mast only transmits Band 20 during night hours when there is little load.

    Hope EE doesn’t turn off Band 3 and leave Band 20 only, as they don’t have enough capacity to do this.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      B3 and B20 remain on

  11. Avatar photo 125us says:

    Rather like rural UAX telephone exchanges used to do. If no-one was using them they would just turn off, and wake up for an incoming junction or someone lifting a handset.

  12. Avatar photo john says:

    Is it known what the savings are as a percentage of total power consumption? I’m not sure whether to feel ‘meh’ or impressed.

  13. Avatar photo Mitchel Fowler says:

    Presumably, these energy cost savings will be passed down to the customers ?
    Personally it makes me laugh.
    EE = Everything everywhere except Tonbridge high street and most places I require it to be working.
    What a joke must be a very early April fools !!!

  14. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    With the huge levels of cell tower contention in the UK the early hours are the only time you’d be actually capable of downloading anything. So strike that off now.

  15. Avatar photo HawkTuah says:

    I thought the UK produces its own energy (& green energy they always brag about).. so why so expensive?

  16. Avatar photo Ta says:

    Who do we complaint to about this.
    Btw o2 is Jorge most worst network ever ranks up there with Threee.

  17. Avatar photo UKW says:

    It’s good that EE is now coming clean about their “power saving” activities. Last year we logged band 78 being turned off overnight at some of our remote sites; this has a measurable impact on overall throughput and latency. This policy doesn’t quite reconcile with the dream that EE promoted of power-efficient MIMO beam forming via the new active antennas that are used for the higher bands. Will EE mobile broadband subscribers receive a refund for connectivity degradation during these hours?
    “EE, the UK’s fastest mobile network, as long as it’s benchmarked during the day…”

  18. Avatar photo Miffed says:

    I have an EE 5GEE router. It loses connection every night due to this profit-saving activity. It is configured to automatically reconnect, but doesn’t.
    A manual restart every morning is simply not an acceptable level of service.

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