The Swedish giant has teamed up with PowerLight to explore the use of lasers to power 5G base stations wirelessly

Today, Ericsson have announced a proof-of-concept trial in Seattle, demonstrating the use of lasers to wirelessly power a 5G base station.

The breakthrough comes courtesy of their partnership with US laser company PowerLight Technologies. The solution uses optical beaming, a technology that turns electricity into high-intensity light, which is then fired at the base station, where it is captured and transformed back into power.

In this way, Ericsson and PowerLight were able to successfully operate and entirely wireless 5G mmWave base station.

Wireless charging, of course, already exists for small electronic devices like smartphones, but powering larger systems like RAN represents much more of a challenge.

Currently, the technology was described as transmitting “hundreds of watts over hundreds of meters through the air”, but exactly how much power and over what distance was not specified. Nonetheless, PowerLight is confident that subsequent generations of this technology will allow for kilowatts of energy to be transmitted over longer distances. 

“PowerLight is developing systems today to transfer kilowatts of safe power over distances of kilometers that will be commercially available in the next few years,” said Claes Olsson, Executive Chairman at PowerLight Technologies.

For Ericsson, this solution could potentially provide greater flexibility when it comes to network deployments, removing difficulties associated with power cable deployment. 

“The ability to safely transfer power across distances without having to be connected to the power grid eliminates one of the big obstacles we have when building new cell sites. The time savings and flexibility gains will make this an attractive solution for our customers,” said Kevin Zvokel, Head of Networks for Ericsson North America.

Safety features were also demonstrated, with PowerLight’s technology shutting off the beam whenever an object threatened to cross into its path. During this time, the 5G base station shifted to stored power from a reserve battery until the obstruction had cleared. 

While we are presumably still a number of years away from seeing this type of technology deployed at scale in a RAN scenario, it does offer some interesting applications for more specific deployments. For example, this could be an ideal solution for temporary networks deployed in emergency scenarios, or during festivals or sporting events. It could also be used to help power other wirelessly connected devices, like drones or IoT sensors.  


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