Qualcomm’s Study Highlights 5G As Sustainability Enabler
You might know 5G from one of the many ads American carriers have been pitching at us consumers, promising faster data downloads, lack of latency and overall better mobile experience. But 5G, the next-generation data network, impacts much more than the little device always in our pocket. According to PWC, 5G will create an additional US$1.3tn global GDP by 2030 thanks to increased efficiencies and productivity that will add value across sectors.
Today Qualcomm published a report titled "Environmental sustainability and a greener economy: The transformative role of 5G" that goes beyond the impact on industries efficiencies and looks at 5G as a sustainability driver.
Qualcomm has had a long-standing commitment to corporate responsibility in reducing the company's carbon footprint and developing more energy-efficient technology. As a result, energy efficiencies have been designed into Qualcomm's facilities so that the combined heat and power plants enable them to self-generate electricity to meet their needs and efficiently utilize the waste heat to provide cooling to their headquarters. Their energy-saving initiatives saved 59,577-megawatt-hours of electricity and 16,495 tons of emissions. From a technology perspective, Qualcomm committed to reducing power consumption by 10% every year in their flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform products.
I had the opportunity to discuss the report with Dr. Kirti Gupta, VP of Economic Strategy at Qualcomm. "I am an engineer by training, and I see the ability we have here at Qualcomm to bring to the table engineers and economists as quite unique. We wanted to identify specific algorithms and technologies that are directly designed to target sustainability through environmental optimizations. We want to find ways to reduce the amount of signal sent, reduce interference, optimize the transfer of different kinds of data so that we are doing more with less energy", explains Dr. Gupta.
Qualcomm identified three use cases that will be positively impacted by 5G: Greenhouse gas emissions reduction, optimal household water management and pesticide use reduction.
5G Use Cases: Avoided million metric tons of GHG emissions in 2025 in the United States
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The ability to lean on smart technology enabled by 5G to use natural resources more efficiently could result, according to the report, in a reduction of about 6% of the annual emissions. If 373 million metric tons of GCG emissions do not mean much to you, think about it in terms of taking 81 million passengers vehicles off the U.S. roads for a year.
Headquartered in San Diego, California, Qualcomm knows all too well how important it is to preserve freshwater. Meters, leak detectors and other sensors used on the utility network can all contribute to better water management. On average, 90 billion gallons of water are wasted in a year in the U.S. due to leakages. While smart meters are already available today, 5G brings speed and reliability. Dr. Gupta proudly tells me that “With 5G latency gets down to one millisecond, less than a flash of the camera, and a reliability of 99.999999%. The other advantage 5G brings is the ability to have it deployed in rural areas, not only urban settings, which is mostly where you find smart meters today.” Smart meters can also be helpful to monitor and manage usage and monitor and project water storage systems and rationing if needed.
Even though demand for products grown without pesticides is increasing, most agriculture production is still very much reliant on the use of pesticides. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops every year. Unfortunately, very little has been done to protect farmworkers who often suffer from pesticide poisoning-induced headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and even seizures. The use of 5G-enabled drones allows for more efficient ad accurate pesticide spraying, which reduces the amount and frequency of pesticide spraying. Using drones will also positively impact farmworkers who can keep a safer distance from the chemicals.
Since 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started collecting data on green jobs that they define both in terms of output and process. The output approach is about jobs created by establishments that produce green goods and services, while the process approach measures jobs created by establishments that use environmentally friendly production processes and practices. BLS categorizes green Jobs into the following: water conservation, sustainable forestry, biofuels, geothermal energy, environmental remediation,sustainability, energy auditors, recycling, electric vehicles, solar power and wind energy. In addition, according to internal economic projections run by Qualcomm, the implementation of 5G enabled technology such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, IoT and automation will boost green jobs by creating of 300,000 new positions by 2030.
The positive impact 5G will have on sustainability would not paint the whole picture unless one also looked at the technology itself and how it fared from a sustainability perspective to previous mobile technologies. In this respect, Qualcomm highlights a much more energy-efficient network that is the result of focusing on techniques such as beamforming, device-to-device communication, mobile infrastructure sharing and energy harvesting.
Energy efficiency of 5G networks - QUALCOMM...Insert Text Above
If you look at all the data, there is no time to waste in addressing climate change. The current digital transformation push and the rollout of 5G across the U.S. must have sustainability as a core business driver. With the U.S. rejoining the Paris Agreement and addressing global warming high in the priority list of the current administration, Qualcomm is calling for more investment in research and policies that can benefit 5G development and deployment as well as the broader semiconductor industry.
Some might be inclined to dismiss the report as a little self-serving, coming from the company that has become synonymous with 5G. Yet, the opportunity to lean into 5G and what it empowers and do so sustainably is a real opportunity. Companies in industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, health, transport and construction should turn to Qualcomm and its engineers’ brain trust and start experimenting. Qualcomm is spot on: there is no Planet B. What we have is what we have to preserve.