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Rapid 5G rollout is 'fundamental' to EU's climate targets

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5G is “fundamental” in European efforts to achieve its climate targets but the slow rollout of next-generation networks could jeopardise progress, a study by Ericsson has warned.

The UN says global emissions need to be halved by 2030 if the world is to stay on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Organisations and governments around the world are currently taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint to help achieve this goal, and 5G will drive efficiencies and enable entirely new technologies that will accelerate this shift.

Ericsson 5G emissions

These include renewable energy generators, carbon capture storage clusters, smart factory and smart city applications. Improved connectivity will also reduce the number of journeys that need to be made for business purposes.

Ericsson’s EU-wide analysis found that using 5G across just four high emitting sectors - power, transport, manufacturing, and building – could generate savings of 55 to 170 million tonnes of carbon - equivalent to taking 35 million cars off European roads.

It also found that two fifths of the EU’s carbon reduction solutions will rely on network connectivity. This amounts to 550 million tonnes of CO2, half of the emissions produced by the EU’s energy supply sector and 15% of all emissions across the bloc.

On top of this, 5G is also 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. Without 5G, the carbon footprint of mobile technology would be far greater.

Many within the mobile industry have been keen to stress the role of 5G in environmental policies and argue that positive policy frameworks are key to accelerating deployment. Ericsson says that by 2027 5G networks will only cover 75% of the world’s population, partly because Europe is lagging behind the rest of the world.

While North America and North East Asia are on track to reach 95% coverage, Europe will only have reached 80% unless something changes.

“The EU and UK have set ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions that will require transformational shifts across society,” said Börje Ekholm, Ericsson CEO. “This new analysis demonstrates that connectivity, and specifically 5G, is vital to achieving these decarbonisation targets. It is difficult to see how these targets will be met unless the roll-out of digital infrastructure across Europe accelerates to match that of other leading countries and regions in the developed world.

“At present, with 5G roll-out, Europe is strolling towards a more digital, low-carbon future, while other regions are sprinting in the same direction. Policymakers and regulators have a major role to play here by realizing the competitive economic, social and sustainable potential of 5G and working speedily together to clear practical, regulatory and financial obstacles so that people, businesses, industries and societies right across Europe can enjoy the benefits.”

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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.