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Ericsson aspires to provide 5G connectivity without connecting to the power grid by wirelessly powering base stations with lasers. To this end, the infrastructure provider has partnered with laser specialist PowerLight Technologies to develop the world’s first laser-powered wireless base station. The pair demonstrated a proof of concept (PoC) test in Seattle.
The demonstration used PowerLight’s optical beam laser powering a Streetmacro 6701, one of Ericsson’s 5G millimeter wave (mmWave) base stations. Speaking to EE Times, Paul Challoner, head of network product solutions for Ericsson in North America, said of the test: “We deliver hundreds of watts of power over hundreds of meters… that’s the innovation. “
This modern technology is more akin to Nikola Tesla’s grandiose plans to transmit electricity by air, proposed some 120 years ago, than the majority of today’s energy harvesting startups.
The high power laser converts photons into electrical energy through a photovoltaic panel. These panels are used in solar energy systems to convert sunlight into electricity. The same principle applies to the transmission of laser power. The electricity is then transmitted to the battery and the distribution system of the base station.
PowerLight has been performing similar “radiant power” demonstrations with the US military since 2019, but Ericsson PoC is one of the first commercial applications to be showcased for its breakthrough technology.
Reduce 5G delivery costs
Supplying energy via a laser to a base station will reduce the time and costs required to commission the communications infrastructure. “In fact, the power supply to the site is a big issue,” notes Challoner, noting that operators will have to run cables to the site, may need to upgrade the electrical transformer and local distribution infrastructure, and may still have to wait “12 months for the city electrician.”
“Having the ability to do this wireless is excellent for enabling the global deployment of 5G,” said the man from Ericsson. “It has been a challenge in the industry for some time.
The Ericsson / PowerLight PoC is still in its infancy. The vendor, however, has a plan and a roadmap to bring this technology to market. “We see it becoming commercial in the next few years,” says Challoner.
One aspect of the technology that Ericsson doesn’t really want to talk about yet is the exact amount of power required for laser delivery. The test system was able to deliver hundreds of watts to power the PoC base station, Challoner notes.
Energy transmitted by laser in a “historic” power beam demonstration
“It’s not 100% effective. Obviously, if you want hundreds of watts in the base station, you have to send more than that to the point of origin, ”says Challoner. “But it’s efficient and the percentage of efficiency increases over time. “
Challoner will not speak exactly about the current efficiency of the laser system. “It’s still early technology,” he says.
Security will clearly be a major concern for MNOs who will eventually deploy this system. The high power laser will be protected by a “safety curtain” of low power lasers that will instantly stop transmission from the main laser if the path is crossed by a human, bird or other object.
Lasers will be line-of-sight technology that can be installed on rooftops and can be aimed at multiple sites at street level. “It would be above the urban clutter, yes,” says Challoner.
Over time, Ericsson / PowerLight laser technology could be used to power a variety of other devices, such as autonomous vehicles, digital billboards and drones, as well as base stations, Challoner said. “Once you’ve built the laser infrastructure, you apply it to other devices that are in the same area,” Challoner said.