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5G environmental and social impacts? – part 2

This is the second & final part of our article on probable 5G environmental and social impacts. Use this link to reach part 1.

Caution: this study is not a scientific paper, it’s a blog post with the intent to share ideas.

Before going into more details on the potential environmental and social impacts of 5G, let’s list some of the more positive impacts that will be generated by 5G cellular technology:

  • Improved connectivity for consumers (more bandwidth, low latency, resilience) allowing new services like 4K streaming, massive multiplayer mobile gaming, almost instantaneous access to internet, immersive AR/VR glasses, etc.

  • Improved connectivity for industries and businesses  (top bandwidth, ultra low latency below 15 milliseconds, very high reliability at 99,999%, mobile EDGE computing and overall a much-improved connectivity that can be adjusted for specific needs and for each vertical markets with the help of network slicing and new radio technology). For many industries, seamless connectivity will be a game changer!

  • Improve battery life as 5G will offer energy management features to connected devices and wearables allowing them to go into a kind of “sleep mode” thanks to 5G NR-RedCap (New Radio Reduced Capability Device) and other 5G improvements.

  • Better internet access for all. 5G supports more consumers and devices versus 4G/LTE hence it shall be easier to widely deploy in market with low internet access. 5G will offer seamless connectivity facilitating the development of “smart cities” and probably lower the need for physical travel and commute (hence helping lower global warming).

  • Faster network evolution thanks to virtual and cloud Native approaches used on many components like the core and edge network nodes enabling more flexibility, openness and interoperability between equipment and vendors. In short, we shall see a faster evolution of the 5G network capable to handle new consumer and industrial needs.

Now let’s dig a bit more on the potential environmental impacts of 5G:

As stated in part 1, the study has identified three main domains of environmental impacts which are: waste, resources and ecosystems. The figure below presents some more details on each of them.

Details on probable environmental impact of 5G.

The main environmental challenges linked to the implementation of the 5G network come from the manufacturing of the 5G components linked to the infrastructure and the waste created (if we cannot or can only partially recycle) by replacing older 3G and 4G installations and the need to use new devices. Then, 5G networks may probably lead to an important increase in power consumption due to larger networks supporting more devices. As you may know, many countries still rely on fossil fuel for energy hence larger wireless networks may imply more greenhouse gases and more climate changes. Producing billions of 5G devices will also consume lots of new raw material, such as rare earth elements if we do a poor job in recycling existing devices. Finally, as explained in part 1, 5G may have impacts on the ecosystem of Earth’s living things.

Similarly, here are more details on potential social impacts of 5G:

As stated in part 1, the study has identified three main domains of social impacts which are: Urban (street) Furniture, Health and Security. The figure below provides more details on each of them.

Details on probable social impact of 5G.

The implementation of 5G will require the multiplication of antennas near to each other mainly in dense areas like cities. On one side, the architecture of a city often represents its history, traditions, and socio-economic aspect. On the other hand, street or urban furniture must also be practical and evolve technologically to adapt to the advanced needs of its citizens. The arrival of 5G will allow communities to move closer and enjoy the benefits of “smart cities“. More efficient and faster first aid services (ambulances, firefighters, and police), intelligent infrastructure and autonomous public transport services, seamless access to internet services are opportunities that will potentially be more accessible thanks to 5G.

However, the arrival of new technology, such as new 5G small cells, requires the evolution and adaptation of the design of current cities. The implementation of 5G will be no exception and is currently generating anxiety among many communities. This will be a real challenge for architects, urban designers, and construction companies. Indeed, the architecture of buildings may have to be redesigned to ensure an integrated and seamless installation of new antennas while allowing great indoor and outdoor 5G coverage.

The emergence of 5G will probably require the installation of multiple antennas, closer to humans and thus possibly generating more electromagnetic waves. The population is trying as best they can to find the relevant information to educate themselves, understand and try to reach some understanding of the situation. In a world of caution and with limited information, it is rather easy, for some, to jump to alarming conclusions. Currently, the noted impact on health remains a shared concern today and shows many cases of misinformation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Despite much research, there is no indication for the moment that exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields is dangerous for human health”.

In addition to the continuing increase in public anxiety over a sense of uncertainty and a certain powerlessness in the implementation of 5G close to human life, more and more individuals are being diagnosed as having “technophobia”. In a world where technology is constantly evolving and where we adapt quickly, it is more than normal, for some, to feel some level of anxiety. In contrast, diagnosed technophobia is a feeling of fear, anxiety or desire to avoid new technologies (e.g., new vaccines). For example, hypersensitivity disease, or Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), seems to be on the rise but does not find any consensus in modern medicine. Whether these effects are psychological or physical, no individual should have to isolate themselves from society to feel safe. Thus, it is through better transparency, an increased sense of security, easier, clearer, and more efficient access to real-time 5G network data for medical research that the psychological effects could be researched and eventually elucidated.

Security concerns will probably have a huge impact on the adoption rate of 5G in communities. The fear mainly stems from the vulnerability of systems and the potential theft of personal information or identity. The cause of these uncertainties stems specifically from a fear of being watched and recorded by “Big Brother” often called Snowden effet. In addition, faced with the proliferation of technological links and access by international entities to citizens’ data, many fear that future conflicts will not be fought by arms, but by access to technology and data. Current research is lacking in terms of security, and the assurance that a system is foolproof holds until a breach occurs. In any case, only information, communication and transparency will resolve this issue and its potential impacts. For now, we can only observe that cellular networks, using SIM cards and a multiple of high-end security features in RAN, Core and Transport, seems to offer very strong protection of individual privacy.

On trying to conclude this long post…

There are still several hurdles to overcome before deploying 5G more widely. So far little academic research has been carried out and therefore little data is known on the potential environmental and social impacts of 5G as discussed in this article.

On solutions that LatenceTech can bring…

We can do our part by helping mobile operators collect and analyze various type of data and information from their new 5G network as shown in this representation of our solution:

LatenceTech real-time SAAS an AI solution to monitor 5G quality of service

For mobile operators, first and foremost is to get data to assess the situation. It’s starts by understanding the behaviour of their 5G network during the day/week/seasons by obtaining and aggregating the data and then perform deep analysis to find ways to continuously optimize their network and lower its potential impacts. As stated in part 1, with real-time data and AI, multiple insights can be extracted leading to network optimisation such as lower energy consumption of RAN sites, lower electromagnetic output of unused cells (e.g., urban small cells at night), supporting more devices and apps on the same network equipment, etc. etc.

Second most important thing for mobile operators to lower environmental impacts of 5G, is to make sure they implement strong recycling measures, in partnership with their network and device vendors, to recycle devices and obsolete network equipment.

Finally, with improved data on their 5G network, mobile operators can gradually open up and be more transparent with communities, cities, government and research entities. Data availability will foster more research helping make 5G a great solution for all of us while limiting its environment and social impacts to a minimum.

We hope you enjoyed this study. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have remarks, comments or would like to share your view point with us.

Regards,LatenceTech team

Special Thanks to the HEC Montréal MBA team (see list below) and Joey EL-Khoury (MBA, PhD), Teaching Assistant at Pôle IDEOS at HEC Montréal Business School.

  • Louay Haouari

  • Clémence Hauduc

  • Ibrahima-Kalil Kaba

  • Laurence Lebel

  • Jacques Mikael Noupeu Nguemecheu

For resources consulted by the MBA team for the study, please refer to part 1.

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