Is 5G really green or will it consume more resources?

How do the tech industry’s claims of 5G’s green gains stack up?

The tech industry has long tried to align itself with the green movement, though its leaders are often accused of tossing around nebulous slogans and making hard-to-test promises.

The Mobile World Congress, an industry meeting in Barcelona, ​​certainly saw some slogans. But Huawei, Orange and industry body GSMA have tried to flesh out some of the green claims about 5G.

The next-generation mobile network is being rolled out around the world, with promises of super-fast internet going hand in hand with claims of massive environmental benefits.

Laurence Williams from the University of Sussex in the UK recently conducted research assessing the available evidence on the supposed ecological gains of 5G.

He told AFP how the industry’s claims stacked up.

Will 5G be more energy efficient?

Orange’s Jean-Marie Chaufray praised energy-saving features such as “sleep modes”, in which components are turned off when not in use, and more energy-efficient antennas and other hardware.

He told MWC that 5G will be “10 times more efficient” than 4G by 2025.

“Energy efficiency is only half of the equation. The total amount of data traffic transmitted over mobile networks is also important.

“Mobile data traffic is expected to continue to grow dramatically in the coming years. There is growing recognition that 5G will be at least part of the cause of this growth in data traffic.

“Various estimates have been released by the industry – some suggest grid power consumption will decrease, others that it may remain stable, at least one estimate suggests grid power consumption will increase due to 5G.

“A recent study in Finland estimated that the electricity consumption of the main mobile networks in 2017 was about 10% higher than in 2010. The authors claim that this was due to the rapid increase in the use of mobile networks. data and new features, especially video streaming.

“While this study covers the period just before the start of the deployment of 5G in the world, it nevertheless demonstrates that improving the energy efficiency of networks does not guarantee the reduction of energy consumption of networks.”

Will 5G help achieve zero carbon goals?

GSMA’s Emanuel Kolta boasted that telecom companies were “among the leading private sector companies” for committing to net zero targets.

And it has paved the way to achieve these goals through the adoption of renewable energy, more efficient batteries and “low-hanging fruit” like the use of artificial intelligence to enable component shutdown during less busy periods.

It is encouraging to see that telecommunications operators are increasingly subscribing to climate objectives and committing to using renewable energy to power their networks.

“While some carriers are already powering their networks with 100% renewable energy, a 2021 GSMA benchmarking study suggested that by examining 31 networks in 28 different countries, an average of 46% of energy consumption was provided by renewable sources with significant variations between countries.

“The operational energy needed to power mobile networks is important, but so is the ’embodied energy’ needed to produce the network infrastructure.

“A lot of research on the implications of 5G for energy use focuses only on operational energy.

“At the very least, we should be skeptical of the purported energy-saving potential of strategies that require the large-scale introduction of new infrastructure based on assessments that do not take into account the embodied energy costs of these infrastructure.

Does 5G bring greater energy savings?

Huawei’s Duan Hao highlighted the importance of the so-called activation effect, which he said would “accelerate digitalization and decarbonization across all industries.”

The idea is that better connectivity will allow more services and activities to move online, reducing the energy consumption of transport and other industries.

Some industry estimates suggest energy savings at a ratio of 10 to 1: each unit of energy invested in 5G will save 10 more.

: “A study from the University of Zurich brings this ratio closer to three to one, mainly due to flexible working, smart grids and precision agriculture.

“However, others have warned that the efficiency improvements enabled by 5G may simply lead to greater consumption of particular goods or services or may only partially substitute for older goods or services – people may still attend in-person meetings and purchase physical music alongside teleconferencing and music broadcasting.

“Even if 5G produces activation effects that exceed its own emissions, it does not necessarily follow that network operators could be allowed to achieve lower levels of emission reductions.

“Enabling effects are difficult to estimate or measure and clear accounting mechanisms and principles should be established to ensure consistency with carbon budgets and climate policy.”


More evidence needed to establish 5G green credentials


© 2022 AFP

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