Could 5G-enabled tech help reduce global emissions?

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Industry body Mobile UK has urged governments across the world to enact policies that allow mobile operators to roll out 5G as quickly and easily as possible so they can enable technologies that mitigate the effects of climate change.

5G is a more energy-efficient technology than previous generations of cellular connectivity, a quality that will be essential in minimising the environmental impact of each bit of data transmitted across any network.

Although power consumption will inevitably increase as the number of mobile connections and data traffic rises, the amount of energy per bit will be 90% lower than 4G.

5G emissions

Mobile UK’s report, compiled from its own analysis and external research, suggests the new technologies and applications enable by 5G will reduce overall emissions in other parts of the economy and society.

Specifically, ultrafast speeds, greater capacity, and ultralow latency, combined with a greater array of spectrum, will enable innovations like the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), smart city applications and telematics.

The report claims 5G technology could allow the combined G7 manufacturing sectors to reduce total emissions by 1% over the next 15 years – equivalent to roughly three quarters of the total emissions of France. Meanwhile, billions of tonnes of CO2 emissions could be saved across the energy, utilities, agricultural and transportation sectors.

“Our report highlights the crucial role that 5G and wider mobile connectivity will have in assisting our efforts to mitigate climate change,” declared Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK. “What is important is that governments recognise this early and work with the industry to enable the rapid deployment of 5G and mobile networks. By doing so we will be in a stronger position to realise our goals more quickly.”

Publication coincides with the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as COP26, in Glasgow this week. Mobile UK, which represents British mobile operators, has long called for a favourable regulatory environment for network construction, stressing the economic and societal benefits that will be delivered. Now it is putting sustainability firmly at the forefront of its messaging.

Vodafone has also pushed for 5G, IoT and other technologies to play a critical role in the government’s net zero strategy. It estimates that around 54% of the 12 million IoT connections powered by its network directly enable customers to reduce their emissions. IoT will also provide a secondary role of acquiring data that can be used by researchers to understand and combat climate change.

The current national target is to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 and achieve net zero by 2050. The government is due to publish a Net Zero Review which will outline the measures that it believes will help achieve this target while maximising the economic growth opportunities available.

The technology industry as a whole hopes to benefit from this shift, providing tools for businesses and individuals to reduce their footprint, while the development of electric vehicles and dedicated industrial equipment will also be critical.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.