As the wireless carriers begin the transition to voice over LTE networks, the equipment areas at the base of cell towers may never look the same. Wireless companies will save money on opex at the base as they move from operating 3G and 4G systems side by side, and the pure LTE networks will also have lower power requirements.
In May at UTC Telecom & Technology 2015 in Atlanta, Plug Power introduced an integrated outside plant enclosure as part of a turnkey fuel cell backup power and hydrogen servicing solution, which represents an opportunity to reduce the radio shack footprint at the base of the tower. The single cabinet solution provides space for network power and communications equipment, reducing capital and operational expenses at each site.
The product was originally developed for use by SouthernLINC, which is transitioning from iDEN to an Ericsson evolved packet core and 500 LTE sites.
“When you are in dialogue over a year with a customer, you are looking for alternatives. What SouthernLINC recognized is that turning backup power over to PlugPower to provide a turnkey solution made their jobs simpler,” Andy Marsh, CEO, PlugPower, told AGL Media Group in a phone interview.
Plug Power changed the way it sells its hydrogen fuel cells, while working with SouthernLINC and its Voice over LTE system. Before it sold them based on soft savings, dealing with projections of lower servicing costs down the road compared with diesel generators. Those claims could always be refuted.
“But with SouthernLINC, we were able to clearly demonstrate, because of the smaller footprint and because of the lower power requirements, fuel cells are a much cleaner, cost-effective technology,” Marsh said.
Plug Power offers the same cost and space savings of one cabinet housing both communications and power equipment for cellular carriers transitioning from 3G/4G hybrids to LTE-only networks.
For a 2.5-kW fuel cell, Plug Power promises up to 33 percent savings on initial capital cost compared with a generator, and a 5-kW fuel cell will provide up to 18 percent initial savings. Additionally, the integrated enclosure reduces the footprint lowering ground space lease payments as much 87 percent compared with a non-integrated shelter solution.
“Because of the enclosure we are able to integrate the fuel cells directly with the radio. It makes the pad size smaller and it gives a value proposition where fuel cells have a distinct advantage over batteries and diesel engines,” Marsh said.
Marsh believes the same logic behind the turnkey integrated solution that won over SouthernLINC will transfer well to carriers that are new to hydrogen fuel cells.
“When you are selling a technology that has been around for several years but is still relatively new to many customers, it is very important to make it easy for those customers,” he said. “We proactively positioned our ability to provide a turnkey infrastructure for the cell site, which includes the cabinet, the fuel cells and the fueling module, as well as the aftermarket servicing of hydrogen to keep these systems up.”
Marsh sees a window of opportunity over the next four or five years, as networks migrate over to pure LTE and diesel engines age, to sell larger carriers on the advantages of fuel cells.
“[VoLTE] is the push that fuel cells need to become a significant piece of gear providing backup support for the network,” he said.