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5G means big energy savings and reduced carbon emissions.

5G’s carbon handprint will make every industry greener

Most people don’t know about this hidden benefit

By Andy Purdy, Vice President,Huawei U.S.A.

Media coverage of 5G has centered on advances in speed, less delay, and ability to connect thousands of devices in a small area. But 5G also has a less-publicized benefit: it’s extremely energy-efficient.

For that reason, it promises to dramatically reduce the energy consumption in telecom networks, and across a range of industries, shrinking the carbon footprint and contributing to the fight against climate change. Already, more than 200 5G networks have been launched around the world. As the 5G rollout continues, the energy savings will really start to add up.

5G saves energy by eliminating waste

In the ICT industry, cellular base stations account for roughly 57 percent of a typical network's total power use. In older generations of mobile tech, only 15 to 20 percent of the power consumed was used to transfer data, the base station's main function. The rest is wasted because of heat loss, equipment that runs when no data is being sent or received, and inefficient cooling systems and battery units.

5G greatly reduces this wasted energy or harnesses it for other uses. For example, in the same way that a smart streetlight saves energy by turning itself off when no one is around, 5G wireless cells can automatically shut down when there is no data traffic. Such techniques can shrink base-station energy use by 40 percent. On a global scale, that translates to big energy savings and reduced carbon emissions.

Smartphones and other devices are becoming more energy efficient as well. New techniques aim to extend battery life to at least three days for phones, and up to 15 years for IoT devices such as connected refrigerators and smart factory equipment.

Moving beyond ICT

5G won't move the needle on climate change just by greening telecom networks. Perhaps its greatest potential may lie in making other industry sectors more energy-efficient. Known as the enabling effect; 5G' energy-reduction potential stems from the changes to processes and behavior enabled by a fast, high-capacity 5G network. Together with virtualization, edge computing, AI-enabled analytics and cloud computing, 5G provides a platform that can help make industries and cities much more energy-efficient.

A white paper by Huawei and Analysys Mason, a research outfit, lists of some of the notable success 5G’s enabling effect has already produced:

Britain's Department of Transport set aggressive targets for increasing energy efficiency in its large fleet of government vehicles. To meet those targets, it deployed telematics systems in 600 police vehicles to measure fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This helped the Department better understand its vehicle utilization rate, which ultimately enabled it to shrink its fleet by 120 vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving money on fuel costs.

A financial institution in Taiwan wanted to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2050. It implemented AI-enabled solutions to optimize energy consumption in all of its 189 branches. Since the system was deployed in 2016, it has already reduced the average electricity use of each branch between five and 15 percent.

To comply with EU-mandated energy regulations, a Slovenian cement factory in 2017 deployed a smart-energy solution based on wireless low-power, wide area network protocol (LoRaWAN) technology. The solution enabled accurate real-time monitoring of the energy consumed by each production process. The factory was able to identify consumption patterns, receive notifications when energy consumption went beyond certain thresholds, evaluate historical data, and predict future energy needs, giving the factory the information it needed to make better decisions and reduce its energy consumption and GHG emissions.

To re-create this type of success elsewhere, governments should invest in speeding up the deployment of 5G. This requires a number of specific actions, including making spectrum more widely available; incentivizing network build-out in various locations, including remote manufacturing plants and agricultural regions; and allowing different operators to put their base stations on the same site or cell tower, a process known as co-location that has the added benefit of reducing costs for the operator.

Governments should encourage the deployment of “small cell” 5G sites in cities by making available locations such as tall buildings, bus and train stations, towers and lamp posts to facilitate blanket 5G coverage in cities.

By working collaboratively, we can help ensure that 5G is deployed quickly and intelligently to accelerate the fight against climate change while making fast and reliable connectivity accessible by everyone.

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