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5G reshaping sustainability across industries benefiting telcos and their enterprise customers with carbon emissions’ reduction

by Waseem Haider | Jul 19, 2022

5G contributes to carbon reduction for telecom operators and enterprises

More than 50 telecom operators around the world discloses their carbon emissions now, as part of a GSMA-led initiative, based on internationally recognized CDP disclosure system. Telecom industry is at the forefront of not only getting their house in order but also enabling enterprises to reduce their carbon emissions.

Telecom operators are betting on 5G networks to reduce carbon emission in their operations and some of the operators are projecting 5G networks to be twice as energy efficient as 4G, according to the results they are getting from first trial 5G deployments. Historically, each new network technology is more energy efficient than its previous generation:

  • 4G networks are roughly 5x more energy-efficient than 3G & 50x more efficient than 2G (IEA)
  • 5G networks are up to 90 percent more energy efficient per traffic unit than 4G networks (Telefonica study)

This gives a unique opportunity for telcos to enable carbon reduction across sectors. 5G can significantly improve the energy efficiency of mobile networks as early 5G deployments/trials suggest.

  • Orange believes that, in the long term, 5G will be likely to reduce the energy consumption of the future network by up to a factor of 20 compared to 4G.
  • Telefonica stated that the activation of new Power Savings Features (PSF) for 5G has demonstrated potential savings of between 20% and 30% in consumption during low traffic hours.

5G can not only improve the energy efficiency of mobile networks but also contribute to the overall carbon reduction of society.

How 5G could drive decarbonization

5G is driving carbon emissions' reduction due to more efficient use of energy on a per-bit of data transmitted basis. The network itself benefit from the technical efficiency gains, which is called upstream effect, below some of the technical aspects of 5G on energy reduction opportunities:

Massive multiple-input, multiple-output (mMIMO)

  • mMIMO is a radio antenna technology which uses techniques like Spatial diversity (SD) and Spatial multiplexing (SM) to enable more data transmission using same amount of energy.
  • According to a Huawei study, if one were to spatially multiplex 10 users with double the energy spends, then that process is still five times more energy efficient than the alternative without it.


Source: Huawei



Source: CommScope

  • Beamforming help reduce energy consumption per bit of data transmitted by broadcasting signals directly at device location.
  • According to a research paper published in European Scientific Journal 5G networks with Beamforming is likely consume 4x less energy than similar 4G networks.

Smart Sleep Mode Technology

  • 5G New Radio (NR) technology makes better use of “sleep mode” allowing more energy savings by:
  • LTE partially support this “sleep mode” capability limiting the possible energy savings, while 5G-NR on other hand is expected to be 30-70% energy efficient compared to LTE.


Source: “Future Connectivity Systems” DG Connect, EC

5G Cross-Industry Contributions towards Carbon Reduction

Accenture has done a US-specific study on impact of 5G technology in industry verticals quantifying the reduced (or avoided) carbon emissions across five industry verticals. The study was based on a model adapted from GSMA (The Enablement Effect Report) methodology of calculating 5G-enabled carbon abatement.

  • The model assumes a baseline in which 5G networks have been deployed to a considerable degree (surpassing 4G), assuming that 5G is easier to scale than its predecessors with the deployment of small cells.
  • Five industry verticals are considered in the model due to their current emission levels and ability for 5G to make an impact. In each industry vertical, the most significant use cases that would be enabled by 5G were considered.

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.


Source: Accenture

5G networks will play a big role in helping industries reduce their emissions. Across industries, 5G networks will enable more downstream use cases because they are able to support more devices, which will create a multiplier effect when the network is used at scale. These networks can contribute to material reductions in the carbon emissions and be the basis of newly imagined opportunities for sustainability. 5G combines extremely high-speeds and reliability to allow digital devices to communicate with each other instantaneously. 



Source: Mobile UK

Case Study:
Fine Energy (UK)


Fine Energy, a renewable energy producer, has shown it can help reduce emissions through the remote control of wind turbines with the help of 5G connectivity in remote areas, where wind parks are usually located.

5G’s high throughput and low latency can help integrate clean energy sources like wind into the grid. Fine Energy successfully demonstrated how to save energy and lower carbon emissions by adapting 5G technology, using 5G-enabled monitoring systems inside its wind turbines in remote locations. Fine Energy used 5G to connect and control wind turbines, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions for wind parks, also helping reduce the number of trips technicians must take to the sites, doing most of the maintenance and control tasks remotely, saving on energy and resources.


Source: Accenture

What’s Next?
Path to Success

The escalating data volumes and services around networks has a toll on energy consumption for telecom operators and therefore energy efficient networks are a top-of-mind topic for operators. Telcos can leverage 5G networks to attain their sustainability goals and in carbon emissions reductions as discussed earlier in this blog.

Some of the key characteristics to realize the full potential of 5G are:

Faster 5G migration results towards carbon neutral future and could not be achieved by running the networks with 5G and older generations (2G/3G) simultaneously

  • Telecom operators and their customers, partners/suppliers, should jointly push for faster 5G deployments and more standardization across the value chain to enable energy efficient future networks.
  • The chart below shows the latest forecasts by Strategy Analytics, 2G/3G remains a relevant technology well after 2026. Faster 2G/3G sunset and migration to 5G could speed up telco’s journey to sustainability.


Source: Strategy Analytics

Network Intelligence enabling energy optimization by replacing manual solutions with automated solutions for example software-based energy saving solutions

  • Network energy solutions are becoming more intelligent. Based on peak and off-peak periods in a day, network energy efficiency can be achieved with the help of software-based solutions making use of technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  • AI technologies are used to calculate shutdown thresholds, allocate network and spectrum resources in real-time, employing best energy saving solution while still retaining optimal network performance.


Source: Huawei (AI-based Energy Saving Network)

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