5G Revolution

The impacts of the climate emergency are already being felt, with record-breaking rising temperatures this summer, and the current flooding in Pakistan demonstrating the harrowing effects of climate-related disasters.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we only have until 2030 to halve all global emissions to prevent a catastrophic 1.5°C temperature rise – and the UN Secretary General António Guterres has excoriated a “litany of broken climate promises” when it comes to worldwide efforts so far.

Sustainability transformation across all industries is an urgent priority if we are going to see companies hit their net zero targets, or reach even more ambitious commitments to address the climate crisis and slash carbon emissions.

As part of iResearch Services’ Sustainability in Tech report, we spoke to experts in the field, including Emanuel Kolta, Senior Analyst, Network Sustainability and Innovation at GSMA Intelligence, about how they see new sustainable tech impacting carbon reduction in the near future.

These experts’ insights complement our survey, which involved 550 technology executives in 11 countries, providing a snapshot of how the technology sector is responding to the pressing demands of implementing sustainability in their business models.

When it comes to tech for good, and the enablement of sustainable business practices across the board, Emanuel said: “I’m very optimistic in the next few years.”

Emanuel shared his thoughts on the burgeoning impact of 5G, and how connecting objects on the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to enable greater sustainability across industries.

He said: “We’re in the beginning of the 5G revolution, and I think 5G will be not about connecting people but about connecting things. I think every industry could give an example of using that level of sensors and IoT which simply wasn’t possible before in the 4G period. It’s not just about the speed but it’s more the amount of equipment you can connect, and the latency. You’re able to connect more and more devices and replace human actions.”

In this shift, corporations, not necessarily consumers changing their habits, will be at the heart of sustainability changes. They will look to maximise efficiency in areas like manufacturing, waste reduction, and managing supply chains.

He said: “Train controlling is a great 5G use case. You can actually do it from somewhere else that is more comfortable and save on resources. I think we will see the tech industry will help many other industries to operate in a way more efficient manner. 5G networks will operate more objects more efficiently, so I’m very optimistic about the next few years. I think it will be about enterprises and not consumers, and the biggest impact will be in industry and manufacturing.”

Bruno Sarda , Principal of Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY, emphasised how the short product development cycles that are the norm in the tech industry help drive speedy innovation.

He said: “Technology companies are innovative and are blazing new trails, literally creating things that hadn’t existed before.

“This agility and ingenuity allows them to address sustainability more quickly than auto or aircraft manufacturers, for example, which have long product development cycles. Good sustainability ideas those companies had seven or eight years ago might not have hit the market yet.”

However, he also flagged up how, as we continue to connect more and more devices to the Internet of Things, more and more data will be generated. The challenge now is to use the vast amount of data we’re generating in thoughtful ways to create lasting change.

He said: “There’s an enormous amount of data out there. However, this promise of Big Data is just that, and the challenge is how to make it more useable and more actionable.”

Emanuel also pointed out how the technology landscape has changed so quickly – bringing with it the added challenge of how to measure all this new and voluminous output.

He explained: “Usually when you define efficiency you measure the amount of output that you produce and the amount of energy you used, for example. But in tech it can be very hard to define the output because it is constantly changing. If we are thinking about mobile connectivity, the output of the industry went from 160-character SMSes not long ago, and now we can watch HD cat videos wherever we are! It’s skyrocketed, so it’s hard to define the output.”

5G and the enhanced connectivity that it will potentially bring around the globe will also make it easier for more people to connect to the cloud. Although not ostensibly a green initiative, the cloud has already helped with waste reduction in sectors like media consumption. Emanuel sees that trend continuing in some new and innovative ways.

He also shared his predictions for the near-future of the cloud, envisioning a future where PCs will be much more affordable and repairable as they will rely on the cloud instead of built-in processing power.

He said: “I think the next phase will be the concept of the cloud PC. If you make the device, the user equipment, more “dumb”, your laptop can basically just be a screen and a keyboard and a transmitter – and all the processing and all the memory will be in the Cloud. It will allow companies to sell very “dumb” PCs, but you won’t have to touch that PC for another 40 years maybe because everything will be in the cloud, you will just need a very good connectivity.

“From a social perspective, the developing world can have more access to PCs and online learning and education. You don’t have to spend hundreds of pounds for PC, you can sell a PC for £20, £30. You can still have the same processing power and capabilities of your PC now, but it will be much cheaper because it will be on the cloud.”

With COP27 on the horizon in November 2022, global attention will trained on how governments plan to forge cooperation on climate action. Global progress on the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets will be scrutinized. In light of this, one of our experts wanted to revisit the mid-century timeframe that the Agreement sets out.

Alex Nicholson, Senior Director of Social Media and Impact at Pegasystems, shared her thoughts on the tech industry pushing the envelope even further in terms of rapid action.

She said: “I’m interested in seeing organizations moving their goals up from 2050, which was the Paris Agreement goal. I think 2050 is simply too late for a lot of businesses. Organizations that can, need to think about what deadlines they can move up as a showing of good faith, and also to model really strong behavior.

“2050 feels to me a lot like the companies who in the early 2000s started saying 2020. It feels like we’re just pushing dates up. I’d love to see people who have made the 2050 commitments start to articulate what commitments they can meet earlier.”

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