Climate Change 5G Wireless Broadband

Wireless Networks are Vital to Addressing Climate Change

Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO, The Wireless Infrastructure Association

Reliable and redundant telecommunications networks have the unique ability to help prevent and mitigate the destruction of disasters before they occur, as well as provide the means to respond to them. Scientific reports indicate that climate change is a major factor spurring the increasing number and severity of natural disasters – and one that humans can address. Studies have shown how dramatically the latest advances in broadband, wireless broadband, and particularly 5G networks, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative documented that internet-enabled solutions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5%.  is a major factor spurring the increasing number and severity of natural disasters – and one that humans can address. Studies have shown how dramatically the latest advances in broadband, wireless broadband, and particularly 5G networks, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative documented that Internet-enabled solutions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5%. 

The characteristics of wireless networks’ wide area coverage, mobility, and speed of deployment offer unique benefits that address every policy goal of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. In fact, every element of the President’s plan will rely on rapid deployment of wireless connectivity, including energy and smart grid, transportation and connected cars, agriculture, water and land use, building efficiency, and advanced manufacturing. The World Economic Forum documents that the digital technology sector, relying on 5G connectivity, “is probably the world’s most powerful influencer to accelerate action to stabilize global temperatures well below 2°C.” Indeed, “digital technologies could already help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% – or one-third of the 50% reduction required by 2030.”

To ensure that federal broadband infrastructure investments effectively target climate change, Congress should keep in mind the most important applications that accomplish the goal. Each of the most fundamental green technologies enabled by broadband requires wide-area and ideally universal and mobile coverage of rural America. These include smart grid, smart transportation and autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture, and water conservation.

Wireless networks provide additional benefits to emerging technologies that will rely on resilient networks. Smart transportation, such as self-driving and electric vehicles, rely on advanced mobile networks to provide instantaneous connectivity for numerous operations, especially safety sensors. Vehicle traffic congestion is a major source of emissions. It is estimated that cars are responsible for about 30% of CO2 emissions. Deloitte estimates that self-driving cars, which rely on wireless connectivity, could reduce emissions by 40 percent to 90 percent, cut travel times by nearly 40 percent, and reduce delays by 20%. In addition, smart city and smart building technologies could result in $20 billion in savings if the energy efficiency of buildings is increased by just 10%.

5G networks will increase manufacturing efficiency and sustainability goals. 5G can enable more efficient compressors that waste less energy, increase boiler efficiency to reduce air waste energy, and improve motor voltage imbalances to reduce energy consumption. Furthermore, 5G will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in numerous ways, such as making smarter electric grids that are more efficient and resilient.

For example, 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 – the same technology used in our phones – to enable broken power lines to be de-powered in the interval between breakage and hitting the ground, which reduces their likelihood to ignite wildfires that have recently plagued so much of the country and contributed to global warming. 

Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in appliances, buildings, factories, and homes employ sensors that rely on 5G as they monitor and analyze energy usage. These technologies alone could cut carbon emissions 15% by 2030.  Smart energy grids also employ 5G. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that it could directly reduce energy usage and carbon impact by 12% and indirectly by 6%. Having resilient electrical grids has become increasingly important during destructive wildfire seasons. As electrical grid operators aim to enhance their networks for greater reliability and resiliency, sensors and analytics enabled by 5G applications are increasingly critical, “allowing for timely diagnosis, prediction, and prescription of all system variables and assets during normal and extreme-event conditions.”

Water conservation and efficient farming are another benefit of wireless broadband. Agriculture accounts for 80% of water use in the U.S. Agricultural IoT technologies, like precision agriculture, monitors, soil property and yield mapping, and satellite imagery, can help to reduce agricultural water consumption by as much as 15% per year.

For the telecommunications industry itself, 5G networks are estimated to be 40% more energy efficient due to technological evolution, which has dramatically increased energy efficiency, particularly in chipsets. 5G processors and radios are tightly designed together, which promotes smart, integrated, energy-saving features.

There is much debate in Congress today about the level of resources the infrastructure plan should dedicate to combatting climate change. Yet, there seems to be wide agreement on the need for broadband deployment funding. Congress should target resources to deploy broadband infrastructure to maximize the beneficial impact on climate change. No broadband technology is better documented to achieve climate change goals than wireless broadband. If even a fraction of the 15% reduction in carbon emissions estimated by WEF is achieved, it would be a monumental contribution toward saving the planet. Excluding wireless broadband would miss an urgently needed opportunity to combat global warming and to prevent untold disasters from occurring in our lifetimes and those of generations to come.