How connectivity can help heal our planet 

As the world marks Earth Day, the wireless infrastructure industry is poised to play a key role in helping solve the world’s climate change challenges. Data, powered by connectivity, can generate awareness and efficiencies that will lead to reduced energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as cleaner water and air. 

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reiterated this idea at the 2023 U.S. Tech for Climate Action Conference last month.  

“As I’ve said repeatedly since I joined the FCC, these advancements in connectivity are unlocking massive opportunities to decarbonize while also spurring jobs and growth in our economy. In fact, their largest proving ground sits directly on top of our climate policy field — on our grid, our roads, our factories, our farms, our cities, and our buildings,” Commissioner Starks said. 

5G delivers higher speeds, lower latencies and a greater density of connected devices, all of which will enable smart power grids, smart vehicles, smart buildings and smart cities. These advances will not only create efficiencies that will allow us to do more with less, but they will also open up creative opportunities to better understand the environment and address problems before they get out of control. 

“A recent industry analysis suggests that 5G-enabled technologies alone could abate enough carbon to contribute a whopping 20% toward the United States’ 2030 emission reduction targets,” said Commissioner Starks. “It’s too soon to tell whether we’ll reach that precise level of impact. But when you consider just how much we emit through transportation, energy production and distribution, agriculture, and the industrial process—and just how poised these sectors are for a connectivity-driven disruption—success of that magnitude lies within the realm of possibility.” 

How will connectivity address climate change challenges? 

In 2020, carbon dioxide accounted for about 79% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, according to the EPA. Those activities are primarily related to transportation, electricity and industrial processes. 5G use cases could remove more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere by 2025, the equivalent of removing 72 million vehicles from the road each year, according to Accenture.  

These improvements will happen on our roads, with smart vehicles and roadway sensors working together to improve traffic flow, reduce wasted emissions while idling and create intelligent mapping applications that help drivers easily find available parking and charging stations. Such technology can also optimize street sweeping and plowing operations. 

In Peachtree Corners, Georgia, T-Mobile, Applied Information and Temple Inc. are introducing 5G-connected vehicle technology that allows traffic signals to communicate with any vehicle on the road. While initially targeted at safety applications, the deployment is an example of how connectivity can be leveraged to make transportation more efficient. 

Buildings will also become smarter via smart meters, monitoring devices and sensors that will improve energy efficiency and reduce waste by automatically controlling systems based on need. According to the EPA, U.S. households waste 1 trillion gallons of water each year due to leaks. Smart water sensors can detect leaks, as well as water pollution and contamination. Lights and HVAC systems can also be monitored and controlled to turn on and off based on occupancy. 

Our utility systems will become more efficient thanks to the power of 5G, enabling windfarms to maximize efficiency by adjusting wind strength through smart sensors that relay data points back to their operators. 5G and the Internet of Things will enable microgrids to be brought online when the main grid is unavailable. 

Traditional power grids will transition to smart grids. WIA member Anterix is working with utilities to deploy utility-grade private networks, providing capabilities, features, functions, and equipment for reliable and resilient connections for essential services. These new networks enable a range of new use cases, such as the Falling Conductor Protection capability developed by San Diego Gas & Electric and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. It relies on the low latency of LTE to enable broken power lines to be de-powered in the interval between breakage and hitting the ground, which reduces their likelihood of igniting wildfires that have recently plagued so much of the country and contributed to global warming.  

Factories will operate more efficiently through the Internet of Things, with wirelessly connected equipment improving monitoring and decision-making capabilities in production processes. Better monitoring allows power up and shut down automatically, helps keep expensive machinery maintained properly so it doesn’t have to be replaced as often and can positively impact inventory control, all of which can reduce energy consumption and waste. 

In 2020, Ericsson opened a smart factory in Lewisville, Texas. The 28,000-square-meter, $100 million factory assembles 5G and Advanced Antenna System components. The factory is part of Ericsson’s carbon-neutral operational strategy and includes 5G connected autonomous mobile robots for material and product movement, augmented reality for remote support and machine-learning-based visual inspections. Precise energy monitoring and management makes the facility 24 percent more energy-efficient than baseline. Other sustainability efforts onsite include solar panels that produce 17 percent of the factory’s power requirements, and 40,000-gallon tanks to collect and reuse rainwater. 

Agriculture and food production are estimated to be responsible for more than 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. WIA member John Deere is leveraging wireless to turn its farm machinery into data-gathering tools that can not only be guided by cameras but can also collect data that allows them to spray weeds while leaving crops untouched, for example. Reducing the amount of chemicals needed is just one of many applications anticipated in the precision agriculture space, including wilt detection that can pinpoint where crops need to be watered. 

The 5G Open Innovation Lab (5G OI Lab) recently launched an application development field lab in Snohomish County, Washington, for the agricultural industry with dedicated access to a 5G-capable, CBRS LTE-based network and edge computing platform fueled by technology. Wireless access is provided by T-Mobile with live radios connected to T-Mobile’s broadband network for Internet backhaul and access to Microsoft’s Azure hyperscale cloud infrastructure, and the Microsoft 5G-capable network core.  

5G itself is more power efficient while transmitting data than previous generations of wireless networks. And the use of broadband wireless networks allows for greater remote work and access to entertainment and services without driving, which saves fuel and emissions. 

Click here to see how WIA member companies are positively impacting the environment.

5G wireless technology is also being used creatively in a variety of applications that benefit the health of the environment. A few examples:  

  • Rainforest Connection, a nonprofit fighting illegal deforestation, is working with 5G and AI to protect the rainforest in Costa Rica. AI recorders recognize the sounds of chainsaws and other machinery, so they can alert rangers about illegal logging in real time. They can also distinguish the sounds of animals under stress so that rangers can respond quickly to illegal poaching. 
  • Nokia has partnered with MCS, its partner for Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) distribution in the Benelux and has already successfully deployed the first Nokia DAC private wireless solution for The Ocean Cleanup’s operations in the North Pacific. Nokia says that technologies such as 5G, private wireless, edge compute, sensors, drones and AI-based analytics will play a crucial role in sustainability projects such as cleaning up oceans. 
  •  Meanwhile, Samsung is integrating recycled fishing nets that once polluted waterways into its Galaxy devices. Its environmental impact strategy includes incorporating repurposed ocean-bound plastics into more of its Galaxy products. 
  • T-Mobile partnered with Pano AI, a disaster preparedness technology solutions provider, and Portland General Electric to work to mitigate the effects of wildfires through early detection and response. The partners have deployed 5G-connected cameras that enable AI-powered active wildfire detection near Portland, Oregon, to identify the first signs of wildfires and help firefighters stop them before they have a chance to spread. 
  •  In the East River watershed in southwestern Colorado, scientists funded by the Department of Energy are leading ambitious multi-program and multi-agency activities to advance scientific understanding of how processes in the atmosphere, surface and sub-surface work together to impact the dwindling amount of water produced by the Colorado River. Private wireless, including 5G connectivity at the local level, will allow sensors to communicate with each other, while remote data backhaul makes it possible for them to transmit data out of the area.  
  • The University of Helsinki’s MegaSense programme aims to build a global observation system that produces uniform, accurate and real-time data on harmful substances found in the air. The program strives to remove any bottlenecks associated with measurement with the help of a comprehensive measuring station network and artificial intelligence using a 5G wireless platform.