Opinion

5G technology is also more energy-efficient

Tirunelveli Ramachandran | Updated on November 24, 2021

Eco-friendly technology   -  /iStockphoto

A recent report from Ericsson highlights that 5G and IoT could yield carbon emissions savings of as much as 15 per cent

Intuitively, one tends to think that a more powerful technology consumes proportionately more energy. However, it’s not so with 5G. Efficiency can be best described as a typically quantifiable amount of work that can be performed with a given set of resources.

With respect to high-speed communications and 5G, this term can be understood to refer to the networks enhanced ability to transmit bits from one node to another while minimising waste. Bit for bit, 5G networks are orders of magnitude more efficient at transmitting information than all previous generations of cellular technologies.

At COP26, along with targets to achieve net zero carbon by 2070, and reduce emissions intensity by 45 per cent, India has set the ambitious target to reduce total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes (BT) by 2030. This would indicate a return to carbon emission levels last observed in 2007.

Fulfilling our ambitious commitments would require a whole-of-economy approach that strikes a balance between the integration of new energy technologies and the implementation of energy efficient systems throughout the nation. 5G and the technologies it enables will be critical tools in a wide arsenal that will help nations effectively address the climate challenges of our time.

Environment-friendly

The accelerated rollout of 5G networks globally will provide numerous opportunities for nations to advance to newer and more powerful technologies but still protect the environment. By enabling the deployment of sophisticated AI and IoT networks at scale, 5G will make electrical grids more efficient, drive significant reductions in greenhouse emissions, as well as enable and optimise the integration of greater amounts of renewable energy.

A recent report from Ericsson highlights the immense benefits of quickly rolling out 5G networks. It reveals that 5G and IoT could yield carbon emissions savings of as much as 15 per cent. At a micro or local level, one could expect even greater savings. As part of a technology upgrade, Ameresco, a Massachusetts-based company, discovered that replacing an old steam plant with a fully automated plant supported by 20,000 solar modules and its own microgrid reduced energy use by over 75 per cent.

An analysis of the macro-economic and environmental effects of 5G rollouts in France, Spain, Poland, Romania and Belgium reveals that economic output could increase by as much as €407 billion by 2030, over 1 million 5G jobs would be created, and as much as 33 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent could be prevented from being released into the atmosphere as direct result of the rollouts.

The environmental impact of 5G will stack up as the technology touches a greater number of sectors and aids the integration of new smarter technologies. Notable products and services that improve decision making across sectors already exist, and many firms are gearing up for enhanced offerings that would only be possible with 5G. In addition to enabling other industries to become more energy efficient, the 5G network will itself be more power efficient than its predecessors.

5G will, bit-for-bit, significantly reduce the amount of power currently required for transmission of information over 4G and legacy technologies. One analysis of The Columbia Climate School reveals that one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity is consumed to download 300 high-definition movies on a typical 4G network. On 5G, that same one kWh would be enough to download over 5,000 ultra-high-definition movies. Another study by the European Commission contends that power consumption per bit can be up to 90 per cent lower on 5G than on 4G.

Notable controlled experiments, deployments and proof of concepts also reveal how the way 5G is deployed has a significant effect on its emission profile. In 2018, Nokia, Elisa and Efore commercially deployed a proof of concept (PoC) network with a liquid cooled base station system in an apartment building in Helsinki, Finland. Analysis from Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre indicated that this tech stack directly reduced CO2 emissions by up to 80 per cent and operating energy expenditure by a significant 30 per cent.

Not only is 5G more energy efficient than its predecessors, but it is also best positioned to transform for the better interconnected supply chains and networks, improve data sharing, optimise systems, and increase operational efficiencies across the board.

It then ultimately boils down to this — as demand for connectivity increases, it is best for the environment if that demand is addressed by 5G rather than legacy technologies.

Failure to act quickly in rolling out 5G networks would mean that this increased demand would have to be served by 4G and older technologies, at a significant emission premium that we can ill-afford.

The writer is President, Broadband India Forum. Views are personal

Published on November 24, 2021

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