The fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G, is expected to be widely implemented throughout the world beginning from the year 2020. By the end of 2025, this new network is expected to attract 2.6 billion subscriptions, as predicted by Ericsson Mobility Report 2019. Many countries all over the world are competing against each other, aiming to be the first to deliver 5G to their people.

However, the environmental impacts of the new network are being overlooked. In these times when the environment is at its fragile state, being ignorant and refusing to learn more about 5G’s environmental sustainability means risking the life of our future generations. So what does the environmental impact of 5G look like?

Let’s learn more about it and find out what we can do to minimize our carbon footprint with 5G.

 

The Environmental Benefits of Upgrading to 5G

The speed, capacity, and connectivity of 5G will provide many opportunities to protect and preserve the environment. To begin with, let’s first discuss the impact of 5G in facilitating remote work. There are many arguments to support why a traditional office job is terrible for the environment. Most people who have a 9-to-5 office job commutes to work by either car or public transport. An in-depth study by Sun Microsystem found that the daily commute to-and-from work accounts for more than 98% of an employee’s work-related carbon footprint. Moreover, working from the office requires a great amount of electricity to power the building day and night, such as office equipment (phones, copy machines, printers, etc), CCTVs, lighting, and many more. Compared to remote workers, office workers tend to have more takeaway coffees and meals, as well as plastic cups, utensils, and other supplies commonly found in an office kitchen. 

When ultra-fast 5G wireless internet is available everywhere, more people will be able to work remotely. Having the choice not to commute daily certainly reduces traffic congestion, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions coming from vehicles. The energy needed to power the lighting and other equipment in the office would be greatly reduced with fewer people in the office, or due to a company shifting to a smaller office space. Moreover, since most documents are sent electronically, people will use less paper and ink cartridge for printing and copying. 

Moreover, the continuous connectivity gained through 5G means we can accommodate more technology to benefit the environment. City governments and businesses can utilize the combined power of 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and IoT technology to create smart cities, where sensors, cameras and, smartphones could work together to make the city more energy-efficient. For example, we can have a traffic control system that employs real-time data and artificial intelligence to coordinate traffic lights. Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh has created a similar pilot project, called Surtrac, which resulted in up to 40% less time idling, 21% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces average travel time by 25%. 

5G May Improve Green Revolution

Many experts are hopeful that 5G may also enable a new wave of the green revolution, once the right infrastructure is in place. Experts are optimistic that the nature of the increased speed in data sensors may create an effective real-time system to conserve energy that is better than ever, and innovative solutions will emerge to help us monitor our energy usage. Paul Marshall, the founder of IoT specialist Eseye, goes as far as to predict that 5G will be the first carbon-neutral network. 

For instance, experts have predicted that future smart sensors will have the ability to perform a range of energy-saving systems, from detecting water leaks to monitoring pollution levels. By using real-time data analysis combined with IoT, new technologies will be able to autonomously switch off inefficient devices, such as house lights or AC/heating systems when there are no humans around. This autonomous operation will lead to a reduction in energy usage as more and more devices will be able to shut themselves down when not in use, and then powering up again in the times when they are required, without any human control. With these new innovative models, we will be able to track, monitor, and manage our energy consumption, which hopefully will help us to make wiser energy decisions.

 

Smarter Public Infrastructure

In addition, 5G’s environmental impact has the potential to protect the environment, guard non-renewable resources, and promote long-term sustainability for positive economic and social outcomes. Game-changing advancements, such as smart traffic control systems, use both AI and 5G networks to monitor traffic conditions in real-time and adjust the traffic light accordingly. To maximize travel efficiency, these smart signals are able to communicate with traffic and react to changing traffic patterns before the vehicles approach the traffic light at intersections. As a result, vehicles report 20% lower emissions due to significantly reduced waiting time at intersections.

Another smart infrastructure for long-term sustainability is smart water monitoring. As water scarcity increases around the globe, the need for more efficient water consumption, especially in the agriculture industry, is essential. This is because in the U.S. alone, agriculture accounts for somewhere around 80% of the total consumptive water used in the country. With smart water monitoring devices, we can now track rainfall, sun exposure, and even weather patterns for a specific location. This device can provide precise measurements to understand each crops’ water requirements, thus reducing the water footprint for each crop.

 

Conclusion

The development of 5G needs to be made with long-term environmental sustainability in mind. In combination with IoT, 5G provides us with the capability to fully understand our environmental impact and react accordingly. The rollout of 5G globally will provide us with the ability to diagnose, predict, optimize, and measure the impact of every decision through real-time data. By enabling more people to work or access entertainment remotely and avoid commuting and flying for business, 5G will save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and airplanes. All we need is the help of cities, businesses, and citizens to bring that potential to life.

Since 2013, VIAVI Solutions has been an early driver in 5G adoption and we continue to deliver innovative and cost-effective 5G testing tools to customers. Check out our comprehensive portfolio of 5G Test and Verification Solutions and learn what makes VIAVI stand out amongst other 5G testing companies. VIAVI’s umbrella of interactive tools, testing capabilities, and solutions will help you to thrive, whichever industry or region you’re working within.

About The Author

Shirley Lim

Channel Marketing Manager - APAC

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