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June 11, 2024

OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of Port Harcourt Branch Series of Scientific Communications: Stella I. Orakwue on THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF 5G TECHNOLOGY ON CLIMATE CHANGE


Stella I. Orakwue and Nkolika O. Nwazor

1,2 Electrical Electronic Engineering Department, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State Nigeria


The deployment of 5G technology promises transformative advancements in communication and connectivity, delivering faster data speeds, lower latency, and increased network capacity. However, the environmental impact of 5G infrastructure, particularly concerning energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, raises critical concerns. This article explores the multifaceted relationship between 5G technology and climate change, highlighting the increased energy demands due to the dense deployment of base stations, data centers, and network equipment. It also examines the potential for positive environmental impacts through improved energy efficiency, smart grid management, and enhanced ecological monitoring enabled by 5G. The article underscores the importance of sustainable infrastructure development and renewable energy integration. Balancing technological progress with environmental responsibility is essential to ensure that the benefits of 5G are realized without compromising the commitment to addressing climate change.


Keywords: 5G, Climate change, greenhouse gas, MIMO, Latency


1. Introduction

Fifth-generation (5G) technology is the latest iteration in wireless communication technology, succeeding the fourth-generation (4G) LTE (Long-Term Evolution) standard. It represents a significant leap forward in terms of speed, capacity, latency, and connectivity compared to previous generations of mobile networks [1]. It uses massive MIMO to enhance spectral efficiency, network capacity, and overall reliability of the network. Massive MIMO enables spectral multiplexing, enabling the simultaneous transmission of multiple data streams to multiple users thereby increasing throughputs and reducing interference. It also uses high frequency bands including millimeter wave frequency to achieve substantial bandwidth which translates to a higher data transfer rate. However, millimeter wave faces challenges in terms of propagation and penetration through physical obstacles, necessitating the deployment of small cells and beamforming techniques to maintain reliable connections [2].

At its core, 5G technology is designed to meet the increasing demands of modern connectivity, catering to a wide range of applications and industries, including consumer electronics, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, and smart infrastructure. 5G provides significantly faster data speeds than 4G LTE, achieving peak speeds of multiple gigabits per second. This facilitates faster downloads, seamless streaming of high-definition content, and enhanced real-time communication.

One of 5G's standout features is its remarkably low latency, reducing the time it takes for data to travel between points to just a few milliseconds. This is particularly crucial for applications requiring immediate responsiveness, such as online gaming, autonomous vehicles, and remote surgery. Furthermore, 5G networks are engineered to handle a significant surge in network capacity due to the proliferation of connected devices and the escalating demand for data-intensive applications. This means that more devices can connect simultaneously without experiencing performance degradation. This quantum leap in the quality of mobile broadband services will also unleash the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT permits all kinds of sensors and devices to connect to the internet. Examples of the telecom sector through 5G and IOT-enabled solutions that benefit climate change are numerous. For example, 5G allows more people to work and access information and entertainment remotely, which will reduce emissions from cars and planes. The transportation sector will also be positively impacted by self-driving cars and trucks. According to Qualcomm Technologies, connecting vehicles to their surroundings such as to other vehicles, infrastructure, and pedestrians could save 15 – 20% on carbon emissions, and reduce traffic by 25%. And many more benefits that cut across all economic and human activities.

Although, there is wide consensus that human activity is the main cause of climate change. Every sector of the economy adds to greenhouse gas emissions, with energy, materials, transportation, agriculture and forestry accounting for the bulk of the negative impact. However, its not all bad news, since there are parts of the economy that have positive impact. Mobile industry can play an important goal. The GSMA, global organization unifying the mobile ecosystem, in 2019 puts the lens on SDG 13 (climate change) to set the target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The industry rolled out 5G, an exponential technology which is at the frontline of digitalization. This opened an enormous opportunity to positively impact climate [4].

2. Energy Consumption of 5G Infrastructure

The energy consumption of 5G infrastructure is a topic of interest and concern, especially considering the potential environmental impact and sustainability challenges associated with the deployment of new telecommunications technologies. While 5G offers significant advancements in speed, latency, and network capacity, it also requires substantial energy inputs to power the infrastructure supporting its operation. Based on data bits per kilowatt, 5G networks are 90% more efficient than their 4G predecessors. However, huge increases in density and traffic are expected to negate these savings, leading to a net 5G energy consumption of 4 to 5 times higher than 4G [3].

5G networks require a denser deployment of base stations compared to previous generations to ensure sufficient coverage and to accommodate the higher frequencies utilized. These base stations, along with associated equipment like antennas and transceivers, consume electricity during operation. Data centers are essential components of 5G networks due to their role in processing and storing data. However, they consume significant amounts of energy for tasks such as cooling and powering servers and networking equipment. In addition to base stations and data centers, the deployment of routers, switches, and other networking equipment in 5G networks contributes to overall energy consumption. As network infrastructure scales up to support 5G's advanced capabilities, so does the energy required to power and operate these components. Furthermore, backhaul infrastructure is vital for connecting base stations to core network elements and the internet backbone. This infrastructure, including fiber optic cables, microwave links, and other transmission technologies, requires energy for operation, further increasing the energy footprint of 5G network deployments.

Efforts to mitigate the energy consumption of 5G infrastructure include the development and adoption of energy-efficient hardware and software solutions, optimization of network design and deployment strategies to minimize energy usage, and the use of renewable energy sources to power network operations. Additionally, advancements in technology, such as network virtualization and edge computing, may offer opportunities to reduce energy consumption by offloading processing and storage tasks closer to end-users, thereby minimizing the need for data transmission over long distances and reducing energy-intensive backhaul requirements.

In general, while 5G technology holds the potential to revolutionize communication and enable innovative applications and services, addressing the energy consumption of 5G infrastructure is essential to ensure its long-term sustainability and minimize its environmental footprint.

3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions of 5G

The greenhouse gas emissions of 5G technology encompass various factors contributing to its overall environmental impact. While direct emissions from 5G technology itself might be relatively minor, the indirect emissions associated with its infrastructure, manufacturing, and energy consumption are significant considerations [5].

  1. Research has shown that 5G is going to increase energy use as a result of the increase of small cells. Unlike previous generations of wireless communication systems, 5G – and particularly mmWave 5G – requires more cells to be installed close to where people use the services. This is because the high frequency of mmWave 5G attenuates (loses strength) over much shorter distances. Infrastructure development for 5G entails deploying base stations, antennas, and data centers, necessitating materials like steel, concrete, and electronic components. These materials have associated carbon footprints from extraction, manufacturing, and transportation. The construction and installation processes add to emissions, especially if not managed sustainably.
  2. Energy consumption is substantial in operating 5G networks, including base stations, data centers, and network equipment. Data centers, in particular, consume large amounts of electricity for cooling and powering servers. Despite efforts to enhance energy efficiency in 5G infrastructure, the overall increase in network complexity and data processing capabilities may escalate energy demands compared to previous generations.
  3. Lifecycle considerations encompass the manufacturing, operation, and disposal phases of 5G technology. Producing 5G devices involves resource extraction, manufacturing processes, and transportation, all contributing to emissions. Additionally, managing outdated equipment and electronic waste is vital for minimizing the environmental impact of 5G technology.
  4. The broader societal and economic implications of 5G technology, including changes in consumer behavior and energy consumption patterns, may have indirect effects on greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the widespread adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices enabled by 5G could lead to increased energy consumption in households and businesses.


4. Potential Environmental Benefits

The potential environmental benefits of 5G technology stem from its ability to improve efficiency and reduce resource consumption in various sectors. Some of these potential benefits include:

  1. Energy Efficiency: 5G networks are designed to be more energy-efficient compared to previous generations. By optimizing network infrastructure, improving data transmission efficiency, and implementing energy-saving technologies, 5G networks can reduce overall energy consumption in telecommunications operations.
  2. Smart Infrastructure: 5G enables the development of smart infrastructure systems, such as smart grids, smart buildings, and smart transportation networks. These systems utilize advanced sensors, data analytics, and real-time communication capabilities provided by 5G to optimize resource usage, reduce energy waste, and minimize environmental impact.
  3. Precision Agriculture: 5G technology can revolutionize agriculture practices through the implementation of precision agriculture techniques. By using sensors, drones, and IoT devices connected via 5G networks, farmers can monitor crop conditions, optimize irrigation and fertilization processes, and minimize pesticide usage, leading to improved resource efficiency and reduced environmental pollution. Crops can be harvested at optimal times and food waste can be reduced.
  4. Remote Monitoring and Telecommuting: The high-speed, low-latency connectivity offered by 5G enables effective remote monitoring and telecommuting solutions. This can reduce the need for physical travel, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and less congestion on roads, ultimately contributing to improved air quality and reduced environmental impact.
  5. Efficient Resource Management: With 5G-enabled IoT devices and real-time data analytics, industries can optimize resource management processes, such as water usage, waste management, and energy consumption. By identifying inefficiencies and implementing data-driven solutions, organizations can reduce resource waste and minimize their environmental footprint.
  6. Renewable Energy Integration: 5G technology can facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, into the electricity grid. Smart grid solutions enabled by 5G networks allow for better management of renewable energy generation, storage, and distribution, increasing the share of clean energy in the overall energy mix and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Overall, the deployment of 5G technology has the potential to drive significant environmental benefits by improving energy efficiency, optimizing resource usage, and enabling sustainable practices across various sectors of the economy. However, realizing these benefits requires proactive efforts from stakeholders to leverage 5G technology effectively and address potential challenges and barriers to adoption.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, while 5G technology promises significant communication, connectivity, and technological innovation advancements, its environmental implications cannot be overlooked. The increased energy consumption required for the deployment and operation of 5G networks, including the dense infrastructure of base stations, data centers, and network equipment, contributes to higher greenhouse gas emissions. However, 5G also holds the potential for positive environmental impacts through improved energy efficiency, smart grid management, and enhanced monitoring of environmental conditions.

Addressing the climate impact of 5G requires a comprehensive approach that includes sustainable infrastructure development, the integration of renewable energy sources, and advancements in energy-efficient technologies. Furthermore, regulatory frameworks and industry standards must evolve to prioritize the minimization of carbon footprints while fostering the growth of this transformative technology. By balancing technological progress with environmental stewardship, we can ensure that the rollout of 5G networks contributes to a more sustainable and resilient future.



  1. Agiwal, M., Roy, A. and Saxena, N., 2016. Next generation 5G wireless networks: A comprehensive survey. IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials18(3), pp.1617-1655.
  2. Cheng, X., Hu, Y. and Varga, L., 2022. 5G network deployment and the associated energy consumption in the UK: A complex systems’ exploration. Technological Forecasting and Social Change180, p.121672.
  3. Singh, S., Singh, D.P., Chandra, M.K. and Singh, M.B., 2023. Assessing Potential Health and Environmental Side Effects of 5G Technology Deployment. European Chemical Bulletin12(3).
  4. The impact of 5G on climate change
  5. Williams, L., Sovacool, B.K. and Foxon, T.J., 2022. The energy use implications of 5G: Reviewing whole network operational energy, embodied energy, and indirect effects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews157, p.112033.

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