The IT industry has long attempted to identify with the green movement, while its leaders are frequently accused of uttering hazy phrases and making difficult-to-test claims.

The Mobile World Congress, an industry gathering in Barcelona, witnessed plenty of sloganeering. However, Huawei, Orange, and the GSMA attempted to flesh out some of the green claims made about 5G.

The next-generation mobile network is being pushed out over the world, with promises of super-fast internet coexisting with claims of significant environmental benefits.

Laurence Williams of Sussex University in the United Kingdom recently led research evaluating the current information on 5G’s alleged environmental benefits. He explained to AFP how the industry’s assertions are supported.

Will 5G consume less energy?

Orange’s Jean-Marie Chaufray praised power-saving features like “sleep modes,” which turn components off when not in use, and more energy-efficient antennae and other hardware. By 2025, he said, 5G will be “ten times more efficient” than 4G.

“Energy efficiency is only half of the story,” says Laurence Williams. The entire volume of data traffic sent through mobile networks is definitely important.

“In the coming years, mobile data traffic is expected to increase rapidly.” It is becoming increasingly clear that 5G will play a role in this data traffic explosion, at least in part.

“Various industry projections have been released — some predict network energy usage will decrease, some suggest it will remain flat, and at least one estimate suggests network energy consumption would increase as a result of 5G.”

“While this analysis covers the era right before 5G was widely deployed around the world, it reveals that network energy efficiency gains do not always equate to network energy consumption decreases.”

Will 5G help achieve zero-carbon goals?

Emanuel Kolta of the GSMA stated that telecoms businesses were “among the leading private sector companies” when it came to subscribing to net-zero targets.

And he outlined how renewable energy, more efficient batteries, and “low-hanging fruit” like artificial intelligence to enable component shutdowns during less busy periods may help achieve those goals.

Williams, Laurence: “Telcos are increasingly signing up to climate targets and agreeing to power their networks with renewable energy, which is encouraging.

“While several operators already run their networks entirely on renewable energy, a GSMA benchmarking study from 2021 found that renewable energy provided 46 percent of total energy usage across 31 networks in 28 countries, with significant variation across nations.

“The ’embodied energy’ necessary to construct network infrastructure is just as significant as the operational energy required to power mobile networks.

“Many studies looking into the energy implications of 5G solely consider operational energy.

“At the absolute least, we should be skeptical of the purported energy-saving potential of plans that necessitate the large-scale deployment of new infrastructure based on assessments that ignore the infrastructure’s inherent energy costs.”

Does 5G bring wider energy savings?

Huawei’s Duan Hao stressed the importance of the “enablement impact,” which will “accelerate digitalization and decarbonisation across industries,” according to him.

Better connectivity, the theory goes, will enable more services and activities to shift online, lowering energy use in transportation and other industries.

According to some industry estimates, every unit of energy invested in 5G will save ten more.

“A University of Zurich research puts this ratio closer to three-to-one, mostly due to flexible work, smart grids, and precision farming,” writes Laurence Williams.

Huawei’s Duan Hao emphasized the significance of the “enablement impact,” which, according to him, will “accelerate digitalization and decarbonization across industries.”

Better connectivity, according to the hypothesis, will allow more services and activities to go online, reducing energy use in transportation and other industries.

According to some calculations, every unit of energy invested in 5G will result in a tenfold return.

According to Laurence Williams, “a University of Zurich study puts this ratio closer to three-to-one, owing to flexible work, smart grids, and precision farming.”


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