5G wireless is key to advancing climate technology


This article was adapted from Climate Tech Weekly, a free newsletter focused on climate technology.

Pick up your cell phone as I would like to start this essay by doing some random reader research. This involves taking a look at your cellular data connection to see which network it is running on. As I travel up the East Bay from San Francisco via Amtrak while writing this article, I receive a strong 5G signal.

And you? While I can’t say the same when walking near my home in New Jersey, the latest rollout of 5G wireless networks has accelerated faster than expected over the past year – especially in China. and North America – to cover around 2 billion people by the end of 2021. According to equipment supplier Ericsson, which released its latest adoption update in November, 5G will reach 75% of the world’s population and 62% of global smartphone traffic by 2027.

What is this mysterious acronym? It is the “fifth generation” of wireless broadband, a technology that promises lower latency and higher capacity than the current generation (aka 4G). It is widely regarded as a great catalyst for making the Internet of Things more mainstream and connecting all kinds of devices along the way, from smart meters and agricultural sensors to next-generation industrial equipment.

Of course, Ericsson has a vested interest in telling us that things are going well (after all, they sell wireless networking hardware), but various business management consultancies are also talking about accelerating the adoption of 5G – and the potential for innovation it brings.

The opportunity to combine 5G technology, an explosion of connection devices, as well as cutting-edge computing capabilities, will result in a patchwork of innovative solutions that we cannot yet imagine.

The Boston Consulting Group, for its part, predicts that 5G deployments could contribute up to $ 1.7 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and create up to 4.6 million jobs – related to smart city platforms, connected vehicles, next-generation industrial applications and Suite. Researcher Gartner expects adoption in leading cities to reach 60% by 2024.

What does this mean for sustainability professionals and climate technicians? Another Ericsson analysis suggests that 5G technologies could have a significant impact on reducing emissions from four of the most emitting sectors: electricity; transport; buildings; and manufacturing. The study suggests that at least 40% of carbon reduction solutions deployed in the European Union by 2030, for example, will be based on fixed and mobile connectivity.

Another analysis, that of ABI Research, offers some specific examples of what is possible. Automated and guided vehicles associated with smart manufacturing, for example, are 45% more productive than their counterparts that lack this functionality, with big implications for fuel efficiency.

Ericsson’s own plant in Lewisville, Texas, which manufactures 5G equipment, is a model of what is possible. The site uses 24% less energy and 75% less indoor water than comparable buildings that have not been covered by 5G applications.

Telecoms giant AT&T is also talking about 5G connectivity as a key to next-generation industrial sustainability. The technology is one of the ingredients of its Connected Climate initiative, an effort to help companies collectively reduce their emissions by one gigaton by 2035. Its partners include the power of the cloud, Microsoft, the cloud provider. digital infrastructure Equinix and the holding company Duke Energy, which is exploring how broadband such services can help accelerate the transition to renewable energy. “If we can help our customers, and it shows in their reports, it’s victory,” AT & T’s director of sustainability operations John Schulz told me when we discussed the effort.

Further glimpses of what’s possible can be seen in the work of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, which currently supports 30 “mixed-stage” companies working on related solutions. A recently published case study details an agricultural solution that uses drones to collect information about apple orchards at a field laboratory in Snohomish, Washington in real time. The tests demonstrated a 50 percent water reduction which was prompted by the analysis of this information. “Solutions for ubiquitous connectivity must extend to large geographic areas and rural areas around the world,” noted Anthony Goonetilleke, an executive at one of the test partners, software company Amdocs. “The opportunity to combine 5G technology, an explosion of connector devices, as well as cutting-edge computing capabilities will lead to a patchwork of innovative solutions that we cannot yet imagine. “

As with any digital innovation, one development to watch closely is the potential energy consumption associated with 5G equipment. In September, Vodafone reported that its first radio equipment upgrades in the UK are helping it achieve average daily reductions of 43% in grid power consumption. But if 5G inspires the types of increase in data traffic that some are predicting, the overall power associated with supporting all of these wonderful apps will actually increase. The trick will be to balance and measure that negative impact against any positive emission reductions 5G could deliver.

Where do you see 5G playing a role in climate technology? Send your comments and ideas to [email protected].


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