New advances in technology are generally targeted at making our lives better, but any improvement will fall short if it fails to help us preserve and improve the world.
Even before the pandemic hit, the clock was already ticking on our ability to avert an impending climate crisis. The pandemic has given us some additional challenges in terms of balancing economic recovery with environmental sustainability, but it could also be viewed as offering an unprecedented opportunity.
Fortunately 5G has been designed from the outset as a more energy-efficient technology than its predecessors, and it also has the potential to unlock broader environmental stewardship by means of a number of forward-looking use cases. By enabling behavioral changes, such as allowing larger numbers of people to work from home or almost anywhere else (WFX) and by improving fleet management for efficient transport, 5G could both directly and indirectly support measures that improve the quality and management of water, air and soil, and also nurture other key parts of the environment like forests.
Here are just five ways 5G can make a difference to the world and its inhabitants:
1. Better-Managed Energy and Smarter Government Services
Smart energy management has long been recognized as one of the key benefits of smart cities. For example, commercial landlords can use the 5G-powered Internet of Things (IoT) to conserve energy when areas of buildings are unoccupied. Connecting devices that monitor and map usage allows energy companies to balance the consumption needs of businesses and consumers with the outputs of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. Utilities can thus minimize the need to draw power from fossil-fueled power stations and ultimately plan for a virtually carbon-free future energy model.
Governments, meanwhile, are planning to use 5G IoT to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver core services like monitoring critical infrastructure, improving energy efficiency, managing road traffic and enhancing public safety. According to a report published last year by the Deloitte Center for Government Insights, carriers are working with port authorities and governments to test the ability of 5G-enabled networks to automate cargo handling, direct ship traffic and manage energy use at ports.
2. Less Pollution from Vehicles
While some government plans call for electric-powered vehicles to gradually replace those running on petroleum-based fuels, much can be done now to reduce emissions. 5G-connected vehicles can stream data back to their manufacturers from the vehicles’ sensors on maintenance status—for example, identifying when brake pads are wearing thin and need replacing. Combining this data with data on usage patterns could allow over-the-air software adjustments to optimize performance and fuel efficiency. In the future, sensors will interact over 5G with sensors in other cars and pieces of infrastructure. Known as Cv2x (cellular vehicle-to-everything) communication, this technology will help pave the way for fully autonomous vehicles. Even now, anonymized 5G data picked up by the T-Mobile network can highlight areas of slow-moving traffic in real time, allowing a connected car to suggest the best route, keep moving and save fuel, reducing emissions in the process.
Ride-hailing and ride-sharing apps, which became popular in the 4G era, are expected to develop a new cloud-based edge computing infrastructure using 5G. This low-latency connection could be used for intelligent driving assistance and to enhance safety by providing the driver with updates on road and traffic conditions. At the same time, an AI-powered personal assistant could improve the passenger experience with information services and streaming video.
3. Conserving Resources and Reducing Waste
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, household leaks in the U.S. waste around 900 billion gallons of water each year, equivalent to the yearly consumption of nearly 11 million homes. Smart water sensors connected to the 5G-enabled IoT can detect not only leaks, but also water pollution and contamination. The scale of 5G means that larger and more sensitive sensor networks can be deployed, conserving and optimizing water use for businesses and public organizations. On a wider scale, sensors can optimize agricultural water use, as well as the use of fertilizers and pesticides, by combining weather data with data on soil and crop conditions to help farmers deploy resources better, work more efficiently and reduce their impact on the environment.
Food waste also wastes the energy and water that went into producing it. Wastage of food products can be reduced not only on the farm by 5G agritech, but also along every stage of the supply chain through the use of 5G smart tags that make each item traceable as it moves via the factory to the consumer, matching market needs while ensuring quality. For example, tagging vegetables with the time and date of harvesting, and updating the tag with the actual storage temperature on their journey to the food store, would allow more meaningful expiration dates to be applied.
4. Emergency and Humanitarian Aid
The 5G-powered IoT allows sensors in areas vulnerable to flooding or wildfires to transmit early-warning data, potentially saving lives—and protecting property and the environment—by allowing mitigation measures to be triggered and coordinated. In the case of fire, 5G not only improves communication among firefighters and other agencies, but 5G-powered augmented reality tools like smart helmet visors can allow firefighters to see right into the heart of the fire, cutting through the smoke and flames. Video analytics data that travels on 5G networks reveals heat levels and the chemical composition of the gases being emitted by burning material, providing unprecedented insight to firefighters.
When natural disasters occur, or in areas of the world where conflicts are happening, supplementary 5G connectivity for emergency communications can be rapidly installed using drones, putting citizens and response teams back in touch with each other, as well as enabling humanitarian aid to be deployed more effectively.
5. Safeguarding Natural Habitats
Forests play a huge part both in conserving the environment and in making life healthier and more pleasant for the population. In addition to keeping forests and their indigenous wildlife safer from fire, IoT sensors can also monitor the health of trees, alerting to dangers from pollution, disease or lack of water. An early pilot for this kind of application is taking place in the iconic Sherwood Forest in England, where 5G is contributing to the preservation of forests while enriching the experience of visitors.
5G-connected water-quality monitors in rivers and streams, meanwhile, not only help ensure safer drinking water for communities, but also help protect aquatic life by alerting authorities to discharges containing unhealthy levels of nitrate.
Beyond the automotive and transportation industries, nationwide 5G lays the foundation for businesses to build what’s next. From more efficient field operations to smarter cities, see what the 5G future could look like—and why choosing the right network provider matters