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Fueling my basestation fears

I had a conversation today with a man from National Semiconductor on an energy saving mission. He was telling me about a benchmarking scheme for analog components and systems that he felt, could help to solve a worldwide energy crisis – I thought he was somewhat overegging the point, I admit.

However, Robert Fischer went on to provide a few examples of systems that could be more power efficient. One figure stood out – that the average basestation was just 3% efficient. He went on to explain that much of the energy used is dissipated in heat, whilst another portion is used to provide cooling.

It reminded me that I had heard about basestation inefficiency before – notably from someone else who didn't seem prone to overexaggeration. Nujira's ceo Tim Haynes had explained how his company was improving power amplifier efficiency from the norm of around 15% to 50% and more.

Elsewhere, I have read that a 20% increase in basestation efficiency can result in savings in energy costs of around £3,000 (roughly euro5000) per transmitter per year, not to mention the many Kw/hrs that represents. When you consider that a power amplifier can account for up to 60% of the entire energy consumption of a basestation, and that Ofcom counts over 50,000 basestations in the UK alone, Mr Fischer's enthusiasm starts making sense.

Nujira's chip designers are, as I write, busy applying their power amplifer technology to DVB digital broadcast transmitters. The potential impact that just a handful of chip designers could make is impressive when you consider the sheer volume of basestations and transmitters already in existence. However, as National Semiconductor points out, the key is in making sure such energy efficient components are designed in.

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