There are large expectations that 5G could be the green technology needed for decarbonisation and cutting down emissions – but researchers claim there’s no evidence to back this up.
They refute this claim on the basis that existing studies into the energy use of 5G have not considered the flipside of what it takes to produce and maintain the network.
The study stresses that the more popular 5G becomes, the number of users will rocket up; leading to more energy-intensive practices that use up bigger amounts of data. The authors state this would counteract the energy-saving potential of the technology, as emissions would be replaced with more demand than current data services.
Heavy infrastructure is in constant need of updating to deal with the pace of changes in the technology sector and the report also points towards the ever-shortening lifespan of smartphones as another reason for caution.
It warns that new technology and data services would render even more devices obsolete, leading to further waste and the need for new materials.
The researchers also highlight that many consumers are not made aware of the environmental implications of their actions when they use their phone. For instance, sending an SMS rather than using instant messaging services uses far less energy, as does streaming videos using Wi-Fi rather than mobile data.
The study calls on manufacturers to make users more aware of these facts to help cut down energy consumption and data-related emissions.
Conducted by the University of Sussex Business School, Author of the study Tim Foxon, said: “The energy required to manufacture and install network equipment and manufacture mobile phones is a potentially important part of the puzzle that seems to be routinely overlooked in assessments of 5G’s energy use.
“Addressing embodied energy involves prolonging the lifespans of infrastructure and devices, designing equipment to be easily upgraded and repaired, and improving the reusability and recyclability of equipment.”