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Examining the ecological footprint of 5G networks

Examining the ecological footprint of 5G networks


The transition to 5G network technology by mobile operators around the globe is a positive development. The increased speeds and capacity offered by 5G networks will lead to improved mobile connectivity and faster data transfer for users. Additionally, the increased efficiency of 5G networks may help to reduce the carbon footprint of mobile operators and contribute to their environmentally conscious solutions. Overall, 5G networks are likely to bring significant benefits to both users and operators.

Telecommunication companies worldwide are shifting to 5G networks, which not only offer faster speeds, but also a significant improvement in sustainability for these operators.

The FreeMove Alliance’s members have made substantial commitments to environmental responsibility through efforts such as reducing emissions, recycling equipment, and becoming climate neutral. The advanced technical capabilities of 5G networks, paired with the new possibilities the technology offers, will have a positive impact on sustainability.

You can read more about sustainability among the Alliance in our Sustainability Management ebook.

5g network technology

5G networks were designed with energy efficiency in mind, with studies showing that current 5G networks use half as much energy as 4G networks. By 2025, it is expected that 5G will be 10 times more energy efficient than 4G, with the potential to be 20 times more energy efficient by 2030. This is achieved through beamforming using Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antennas, deep wake modes to turn off equipment during low demand, and optimized power amplifiers.

5G’s increased speed, capacity, and low latency open up new opportunities to support a wide range of sustainability initiatives by powering the proliferation of smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). It also allows for innovation across multiple sectors.

5g environmental impact

The 5G-Carmen initiative, supported by the European Union, aims to develop a sustainable, automated and connected mobility model using 5G technology. Partners such as BMW, TIM, Deutsche Telekom, Nokia, Qualcomm, and research bodies are working on research and experimentation. In early tests, sensor infrastructure on a motorway connected to sensors on vehicles transmitted information about weather hazards to other vehicles and suggested speeds for reducing the environmental pollution. 5G networks can also be used in industries like agriculture, where a field robot was connected, monitored, and remotely controlled for mechanical weed control, reducing dependence on chemical herbicides and increasing efficiency for farmers.

Carriers and handset manufacturers are involving their customers in sustainability efforts by offering 5G smartphones made from recycled and ethically sourced materials, as well as supporting the recycling and reuse of older devices and providing longer warranties, spare parts, and continued support to extend the device’s lifespan and reduce waste. An example of this is the partnership between Deutsche Telekom and Fairphone, which in September 2021, offered the world’s first sustainable 5G-capable smartphone, the Fairphone 4. It is the first electronic waste-neutral phone and has a modular design, is wrapped in 100% recycled material, and uses ethically obtained green resources. It has been awarded the German Blue Angel eco-label and received a top score of 85/100 in the Eco Rating.


5G technology has the potential to play an important role in sustainability for mobile operators. The increased efficiency of 5G networks can lead to reduced energy consumption, which can help to lower the carbon footprint of mobile operators. Additionally, 5G networks can enable new use cases, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which can lead to more efficient and sustainable operations across a variety of industries. The increased capacity and faster data transfer of 5G networks can also help to reduce the need for additional infrastructure, which can have a positive impact on the environment. Overall, 5G technology can be an important enabler for sustainability for mobile operators.

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