Wireless Industry Now Claims 5G Will Miraculously Help Fix Climate Change

from the is-there-nothing-it-can't-do dept

For several years the wireless industry has been hyping fifth-generation wireless (5G) as something utterly transformative. For this whole stretch we’ve been subjected to claims about how the wireless standard would revolutionize smart cities, transform the way we live, result in unbridled innovation, and even help us cure cancer (doctors have told me it won’t actually do that, if you’re interested).

But in reality, when 5G arrived, it was a bit underwhelming. At least in the United States, where speeds were dramatically lower than overseas deployments due to our failure to make middle-band spectrum widely available. And at prices that remain some of the highest in the developed world thanks in large part to consistent consolidation and regulatory capture.

Yeah, 5G is important. But not in any sexy way. It provides significantly faster speeds and lower latency over more reliable networks. Which is a good thing. But it’s more evolution than revolution. Consumers are generally happy with 4G speeds, and most consumer surveys suggest the number one thing they want is better coverage (which U.S. 5G has struggled to provide because middle band spectrum was scarce) and price cuts.

Hoping to excite consumers and regulators, wireless carriers have been desperate to come up with marketing that tries to frame 5G as utterly transformative. Usually this involves marketing that takes something you can already do over 4G or Wi-Fi, attaching 5G to it, and calling it a miracle. Like watching concerts (which you can already do) over 5G. Or getting a tattoo remotely (which you could technically already do over wired, Wi-Fi, or 4G broadband):

While 5G hype had slowed a bit in the last six months, the wireless industry jumped back into the fray with a sponsored report claiming that 5G will soon dramatically aid the fight against climate change. The industry study (which was quickly picked up and parroted by loyal telecom trade magazines) insists that 5G will quickly help the U.S. meet its climate goals (which most climate experts say were already woefully undercooked):

“In the United States, use cases on 5G networks are expected to enable the abatement of 330.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMtCO2e) across five industry verticals by 2025, which is an approximated 20% contribution towards US emission reduction targets at this time. This is the same effect as taking 71.9 million cars off the roads for one year or eliminating the annual emissions from 83 coal-fired power plants.”

The report effectively goes on to argue that the very act of embedding faster, lower-latency 5G chipsets into technology in fields and factories will improve overall efficiency and communication speed. Which is true, but the idea that you could actually take these improvements and measure their impact on overall emissions across a parade of different technologies and industries seems suspect at best. And even if you could, the idea that companies will exploit these efficiencies to reduce carbon emissions–as opposed to simply utilizing these improved efficiencies to improve profitability–seems like a fairly sizeable and generous assumption.

The whole report is based on the concept that being faster and more energy efficient will just naturally lead to lower carbon emissions, through very “science-ish” sounding paragraphs like this one:

“5G can reduce carbon emissions through a more efficient use of energy per bit of data transmitted. We call this an ?upstream? effect because of technical efficiency gains realized by the network itself. In addition to the upstream effect, widespread 5G adoption will bring a positive effect ?downstream,? or changes that result from behavior changes stemming from technologies enabled by 5G?s higher speed or device throughput.”

But just because you’ve affixed faster, lower latency chipsets onto hardware in a factory or field doesn’t naturally always equate to greater efficiency, either. The underlying equipment being used could still be inefficient, polluting, and problematic. And any gains in efficiency could still be offset by just a countless array of other factors at the company, be it dysfunctional organization or dated equipment. Like with most claims, 5G isn’t just some kind of magic lotion you spread on things resulting in everything somehow getting better.

The wireless industry certainly wants the public to believe 5G is magic to justify U.S. consumers paying some of the highest prices for wireless service in the developed world. But the hype serves another purpose: if you portray 5G as a near-mystical to the majority of societal problems, that increases the pressure on regulators to acquiesce to industry demands quickly and without much thought. If they don’t (like say by questioning the need for more subsidies, blocking a problematic megamerger, or supporting basic consumer protections), they’re enemies of progress and innovation.

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Companies: ctia

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Comments on “Wireless Industry Now Claims 5G Will Miraculously Help Fix Climate Change”

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Anonymous Coward says:

What behavior would change?

"In addition to the upstream effect, widespread 5G adoption will bring a positive effect “downstream,” or changes that result from behavior changes stemming from technologies enabled by 5G’s higher speed or device throughput."

People aren’t automatically going to use their 5G devices less simply because they can do the same amount of work as before in (slightly!) less time. Some will, but some will use their devices for just about the same amount of time.

Christenson says:

Well, it could help....

If done properly, so I don’t have to commute in my car or otherwise haul my body to the right place anymore….that would make a dent in global warming.

To do that, it needs to be secure, and the backbone that feeds it also secure.

But right now it looks a lot like a big silicon hog…sending perfectly good 4g hardware to landfills…

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Well, it could help....

If done properly, so I don’t have to commute in my car or otherwise haul my body to the right place anymore….that would make a dent in global warming.

If you get unlimited data when tethering, which as far as I know no US carrier is offering.

I’ll be open to the possibility of 5G helping with climate change as soon as they can prove that 3G and 4G did.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Kathryn Pauline Phares-Lopez (user link) says:

Climate change ad 5g

I hear the birds and some other wildlife are downsized. Wow. Oh well, right? Who needs birds and and trees. What about the soul and the rock it tries to grow Things on? But hey.. It makes it faster for us to communicate telephonically and keeps us from driving to each other other for gave to gave interactions.. That’s not important either. But emissions yes. I never have to see my daughter again who lives 3000 miles from me I could do video calls. Why I should never leave my home again and be buddies with my phone and wifi with a router on a computer. Forget who’s in the park with the ducks that probably won’t be flying North for the summer because the wind has changed for the betterment of technology. Hopefully they don’t die from heat exhaustion because people still want to drive but then we come to solar electricity. Sticking up the Earth’s energy again abusing or authority as the human we are not thinking amor what God wants. We are losing focus on the thing that made up the human population. Family.. chang we is not always good. The shell is bringing hell for it will smell but it sells tells and dries up the wells. Drought man making rain pushing the waves farther away from what the Earth feels it should be able to do on it’s own but we think we have control. The Earth says no more. We will pay sooner than you think and Good issues is warnings. Technology has gone to far. Stop.

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