5G – door opener for climate protection?


5G divides the nation, as is otherwise the case with COVID-19, but this should not stop us from critically looking at the facts, rather than simply copying and spreading – mostly negative – claims that may not be true. After all, the issue is too important. 5G represented a strategically important renewal of our mobile communications infrastructure, without which the network – and thus mobile Internet connectivity – will soon come under attack because of the ever-increasing data traffic.

One of the controversial issues surrounding 5G is its usefulness. What is the point of being able to chase even more data over the airwaves even faster? There was an interesting article by Volker Richert and Eckhard Baschek in the Handelszeitung today (“Door opener for climate protection”), which argues that the benefits include climate protection. Enclosed you will find a few quotes and a summary to refute the claim that there are still no meaningful ideas for the application of 5G or that 5G is harmful to the climate. All information in this article has been critically reviewed. If you would like to read the article (in German) in its entirety, you can read the Handelszeitung digitally or buy it at a kiosk.

Digitalisation, for its part, is based on technological innovation coupled with imaginative business ideas. For example, e-trottinets like Bird or Lime would not have worked without a well-positioned, fast communication network, modern software and countless mobile devices.

These many smart, networked terminals can be imagined as a dense network of points that constantly exchange information with each other – … experts also refer to all this as “IoT”, the “Internet of Things”.

These “things” have two essential characteristics: First, they contain sensors that measure something and generate data. Second, they are connected to the internet so that the data can be processed at a central location. Some sensors even have their own, albeit small, computing capacity. In the final analysis, this ensures a more sustainable, resource-efficient and at the same time more comfortable life, subject to strict data protection requirements.

The communication network must be able to process the constantly occurring data from these many, often mobile pulse generators. Therefore, besides the bandwidth, the reaction time is also important. Although it is a pleasure to upload or download large amounts of data in the shortest possible time, it is just as indispensable to be able to transport small amounts of data, such as control commands for robotics and remote control of excavators, virtually in real time.

The only technology that can do this is the fifth generation mobile network, or 5G for short. The energy consumption is only a fraction of what older mobile networks consumed. … Thanks to 5G, almost 90 percent of energy and CO2 emissions are saved during data transmission. In a study conducted by the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research Empa, for example, it was possible to show that the transmission of data in a 5G network is around 85 percent more energy-efficient than in today’s mobile communications infrastructure. This is no mean feat, since the IT/telecommunications sector consumes around 2 percent of the electricity generated globally.

This study, financed by the Swisscleantech trade association and Swisscom, was carried out by the “Information Technology and Sustainability” research group headed by Professor Lorenz Hilty at the Institute for Information Technology at the University of Zurich, together with Roland Hischier’s research group at Empa in St. Gallen.

Asked about a specific application, Professor Hilty explains that further flexibilisation of work in particular has potential because it saves traffic. …

The Swiss electricity grid will also benefit from 5G “if decentralised generation of electricity from renewable sources and a better match between energy supply and demand are to be achieved”. And finally, it is conceivable that fertilisers, pesticides and methane could be saved in agriculture because much more differentiated and reliable monitoring can be afforded (see the two application examples on the next page). As a vision for the future, he cites the end of monocultures in agriculture, because environmentally friendly mixed crops become more economical thanks to robots that can differentiate between plants.

And radiation exposure? … A study by the University of Ghent in Belgium last year showed that 5G causes about 80 percent less radiation exposure than its predecessor standard, with the same amount of data. …

In view of the constantly increasing data volumes in many places, today’s networks are already working at over 90 percent capacity. … According to Swisscom forecasts, data traffic is expected to increase eightfold over the next ten years. So 5G is just in time for the Swiss economy, and not just because of Corona. 5G enables people to work wherever they are and thus reduces commuting distances – with lower fuel consumption and potentially fewer infections.

… The French-speaking Swiss company Ecorobotix uses robots for weed control in agriculture. They are able to apply herbicides in a targeted manner, reducing their use by up to 90 percent and thus helping to protect groundwater. The reduction of herbicides supports the sustainable use of land ecosystems and can reduce soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity.

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