5G: A critical technology for our Green future

Stakeholder Opinion

It's high time policymakers recognized the value of next-generation telecommunications in delivering on the EU's long-term sustainable objectives, says Luis Neves.  [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Re-connecting Europe.

It is high time policymakers recognised the value of next-generation telecommunications in delivering on the EU’s long-term sustainable objectives, says Luis Neves.

Luis Neves is the Global CEO of GeSI, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative. He is responsible for the establishment of the Initiative’s strategic goals and for overseeing all GeSI’s activities.

You’ve been keen to make the case for telecommunications innovation helping to achieve our sustainable goals. Thinking specifically about 5G, how can next-generation networks help us to pursue our climate ambitions?

In 2019, GeSI launched its Digital with Purpose report, which presents how digital technologies can support achieving the SDGs and at the same time mitigate the current negative trends. In our report, 5G is one of the seven digital technologies identified as having a critical influence on the world, including: Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Cognitive technology, Cloud, Digital Access, and Blockchain. In the case of 5G, our report goes into extensive detail on its role in greening the world.

The 5G share in traffic and data transmission has the potential to increase efficiency and will only continue to grow faster—this means better connectivity, higher speeds, and reduced latency that can enable things like digital twins, IoT devices and other applications to amplify efforts for a greener digital transition. While this indeed will mean the multiplication of IoT devices, there are very strong incentives for governments like the European Union and for manufacturers as well to keep these products energy-efficient.

Our report also has multiple case studies from our member companies illustrating 5G in action but what also really needs to accompany these types of technologies are political will, leadership, and stronger corporate commitments to shifting to clean energy.

Could you provide any concrete examples worldwide of 5G being employed to reduce emissions, for example?

5G needs to be accompanied by other digital technologies for its capacity to be fully realised and adequately deployed.

AT&T, for instance, utilises 5G and IoT in curbing GHG emissions using its Smart Irrigation solution, in collaboration with HydroPoint. The technology allows customers to track and manage their water usage with greater speed and precision, which uses cloud-based water management systems. The GHG emissions savings arise from the reductions in process and pumping of the water.

Taiwan Mobile, uses remote detection devices to monitor base station energy consumption, gathering real-time data without manual meter-reading, thus reducing emissions from travelling. The use of Smart Meters also allows Taiwan Mobile to accurately anticipate and predict the consumption of energy, providing valuable information for optimisation and efficiency. Taiwan Mobile reports that it has so far saved about 25.4 tonnes per year in CO2 emissions and reduced manual meter trips by 8,439.

Looking at the potential in smart cities, Verizon offers an advanced traffic management service for public agencies using 5G and IoT devices, leveraging in-ground wireless vehicle detection sensors and cloud-based data collection systems. These sensors provide real-time road traffic data and follow-up studies conducted have shown 40% fewer traffic delays, 25% less travel time, 10% fuel savings, and 22% fewer emissions.

But what about other technologies that have come in for criticism for their ecological footprints, such as data centres and cloud computing sites, these aren’t regarded as particularly environmentally friendly, are they?

The ICT sector has a great responsibility to ensure that what it is deploying is sustainable. Recognising the energy consumption of data centres and cloud computing, the Commission and our sector have been making great efforts in exploring the ways in which we can make data centres greener.

We have been giving special attention to conversations related to the ICT sector footprint. In this regard since 2007, GeSI has been conducting deep research with recognised and credible consultants such as Mckinsey, Boston Consulting, Accenture Strategy and Deloitte on the sector global footprint, as well as its “enabling” impact in making other sectors more efficient, through our so-called “Smart Reports”. We have published 4 reports so far, presenting arguments on why reducing emissions and being sustainable need to be priorities for companies globally.

What the research is showing is that the sector global footprint remains stable at 2% of the global emissions, while its enablement potential has been increasing. Our Smart2030 report shows that ICT can reduce 20% of global emissions.  These reports go into extensive detail on how sectors like Agriculture, Health, Education, Manufacturing and others can cut costs by deploying ‘green solutions’ like SMART buildings and mobility, and e-services. The aforementioned report also found that ICTs could generate $6.5 trillion in revenues and result in $4.9 trillion in cost-saving opportunities. We also have findings that talk further about the return on investment and the greater efficiency that comes as a result of green ICT solutions.

How much has Europe’s 5G rollout been impacted by external factors such as the ongoing disinformation campaign against the technology, as well as the coronavirus pandemic?

We are at a critical stage in society where the lines between reality and fiction are increasingly blurred – this is certainly the case with the COVID-19 crisis and the on-going disinformation campaign against 5G.

At GeSI, we believe that all technology must be deployed with great purpose in mind and there are countless resources and data, such as our Digital with Purpose report, that go into detail about how the ICT sector can accelerate a green, digital recovery not only for Europe but for everyone. I believe our sector is confident in allowing the science and hard data to speak for themselves, but there is also an opportunity for governments to support the efforts of the wider ICT sector by advocating policies, funding programmes, and engaging with stakeholders so we can rebuild our society and our planet together.

The European Union needs to come out of its “a la carte” approach and take bold steps aligned with its core values and interests with the main purpose in mind of ensuring its positioning as a credible, solid and fundamental player in the global arena in order to offer the European economy and its citizens with top of the edge digital services. Technology can accelerate action, but it requires a robust, shared ambition. Critical to a shared ambition is strong leadership to secure it.  For this to happen strategic vision and ambition is required.

Everything today depends on digital technologies. Digital technologies have been the engine of growth and prosperity. The challenges our society is currently facing and will continue to face requires smart, innovative minds working together to find impactful solutions – and fast.

It is imperative for Europe to urgently find its own space in the current geopolitical context – “The third way”.  The recent outcome of the American elections represents an opportunity that might help.

Have these well-publicised concerns overshadowed 5G’s potential for helping Europe to achieve its sustainable goals? 

5G is a fundamental catalyst for the digital transformation of businesses, cities and public services. It is a catalyst for Industry 4.0, bringing sensibility, intelligence and automation to new generation production processes for greater competitiveness. It is the catalyst for the transformation of cities into smart and inclusive cities that improve the quality of life of their citizens.

It is the catalyst for more efficient and more comprehensive public services that educate better, offer better health to more people through the remotisation of less critical care and better use of resources in more critical care, accelerate transactions in the economy, maximise the use of resources and provide greater security for all.

The greatest value of 5G is that it is a transformation agent. For people, the immediate promise is greater speed and performance on the Internet and more immersive content, but for companies and institutions, the promise is a huge transformation of their operating models and improved quality of their products and services.

In launching the strategy for a single digital market, the European Commission stated that “a European approach to digital transformation means strengthening and including citizens, strengthening the potential of all companies and responding to global challenges through our core values”.

There are great developments in the works, such as the European Green Deal and the EU Taxonomy, but programs like green public procurements (GPP) and a recovery plan that leverages technology are critical next steps.

Where are we to go from here? Is 5G a critical technology for the Green Deal?

Without a doubt. The examples from our members and the work of the ICT sector have shown how 5G and accompanying technologies can lead us to an inclusive, green digital recovery that the Green Deal envisions.

Technology has touched every single corner of society and no entity or sector can go it alone. What needs to follow is greater collaboration between the public and private sectors, as well as other stakeholders. We all need to align on the ambitions of the Green Deal, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement – we have these frameworks in place, and I believe digital technologies are the perfect tools to get us there.

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