Technology has always been at the forefront of the sustainability movement, playing a vital role in both the research and the development of eco-friendly alternatives and processes. From big-name tech corporations to smaller start-ups, the technology industry has been busy changing the way we understand our planet and educating us all on how to live better, more sustainable lives.
With the well-publicised roll-out of 5G in 2019, the technology industry promised a new era of high-speed connections, accessible internet for all and a more efficient way to deliver reliable wifi to the public. But how does the launch of 5G impact sustainable change? And does 5G help or hinder the climate change movement?
Is 5G Internet Inherently Sustainable?
The nature of 5G is to offer a more effective, efficient and accessible solution for internet users across the globe - from farms and rural villages to offices and cities. Built to work as an energy-efficient system, 5G can help to support the deliverance of AI and IOT software to more industries and locations, reducing the carbon emissions of industries such as transport, manufacturing, hospitality and agriculture.
According to telecoms organisation - STL Partners, ‘a 5G cell site takes just 15% of the energy of a 4G cell site to transmit the same data.’ This could mean that, by 2030, 5G could globally save 0.5 billion tonnes of CO₂; an extraordinary figure compared to that of 4G networks.
On a technological level, however, the use of 5G equipment in cellular infrastructure, as it currently stands, actually increases its overall energy consumption. Although 5G itself is energy efficient, it takes more power to generate and manage 5G than any other network - predominantly due to its popularity and increased demand from users. Recent studies have found that the average customer data usage on 5G networks is structurally five to 10 times higher compared to the figures recorded for 4G. More users mean more power requirements and more energy consumption from the network, with more people using mobile devices, equipment and digital products than ever before.
But the carbon-saving potential 5G presents far outweighs the carbon footprint of the collective user base.
Which Industries Does 5G Support
With its seemingly endless capabilities, 5G can offer new opportunities for industries and sectors to thrive. One of the biggest industries set to benefit from 5G support is agriculture - a sector previously disconnected from the standard advances in technology. With the aid of the 5G network, the agriculture industries can improve and develop their farming processes with more accuracy, using sensors, connected devices and autonomous machines. Being able to access advanced technologies such as imaging drones, ground robots and automated irrigation systems will allow farmers to gain a higher accuracy with their crop yield, encouraging more natural growth and reducing overall food waste in the industry. With only an estimated 14% of produce actually reaching consumers from farms and agriculture spaces, this drop in food waste is essential for reaching those key sustainability targets.
5G also has a big role to play in the development of smart cities and beyond - changing the way consumers use technology, connect, learn and live on a daily basis. From helping to support sustainable electric vehicles, such as bikes and scooters in UK cities, to offering reliable wifi access for traffic calming measures, this new network can help to reduce the carbon emissions of some of the most unsustainable city spaces.
Water management is another sector set to be influenced by 5G. Recently, studies have discovered that just 3% of the world’s water resources are actually drinkable and consumable for humans, with only 25% of it being accessible. However, with the pairing of IOT and 5G technologies, digital water management devices such as GPS systems, chlorophyll sensors, and sprayer control can help to distribute crop and water resources more efficiently. This, in turn, reduces the amount of water lost in production and transportation, as it also detects any dangerous chemicals in the water, identifies leaks and provides early flood warnings.
5G and Connected Sustainable Education
One of the most important roles 5G plays in driving sustainable change is the ability to connect and educate even the most remote communities on the importance of sustainable living. Access to the internet in 2023 is often viewed as a fundamental human right, and with 5G, it’s easier than ever to deliver quality, reliable wifi to communities who would previously have been left in the dark.
Through this influx of 5G, communities and individuals will be able to learn and be educated on best practices for sustainability, will be encouraged to live more sustainably, and will be able to understand the immediacy of the climate change crisis happening around them. From there, the possibilities are endless, with new ideas, new research and new contributions continuing to push the movement forward towards answers.
From school children to business owners, access to a high-quality education is vital to understanding the climate problem facing the world in 2023 and will play a big role in changing the way future generations approach their everyday lives.
‘5G is a hugely beneficial tool in driving sustainable change and can invite a new era of carbon-reducing digital technology to emerge in a much shorter timeline than ever before. 5G invites more and more voices into the conversation surrounding sustainability and can offer essential solutions to improving cityscapes, farms, businesses, industries and sectors, without sacrificing quality or reliability.’
Ann Wheeler, Director - Data Centres at Clean Energy Capital
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