5G is the next generation of wireless data network and it will provide speeds as high as 20-times today’s typical broadband networks. In fact, 5G will bring new forms of services, including everything from remotely monitoring water usage on farms to remotely conducting brain surgery. Due to the network’s ability to respond to human activity in real-time, 5G represents an opportunity to rethink the organization of society in order to support sustainable approaches to life.
As consumers, workers and citizens, our challenge will be to understand all the new components of technology and its social and environmental consequences. Additionally, 5G will deliver a ubiquitous broadband network that can not only revolutionize the economy but will bring a circular vision of reusable materials for future generations of products. That said, there will be four distinct opportunities for sustainability brought about by the new technology.
Advanced logistics operations
Traditional ways of thinking about networks emphasize delivery of data rather than the collection of it. However, since the rise of the internet, people have access to a vast variety of broadcasts and can now send their own information to the network. Because of this, connectivity has raised many privacy issues, but also delivered tools for improving life, preserving the environment, making better choices at the store, as well as our fitness and diets. Now, apps interrupt personal data in order to help keep us active, track our caloric intake and burn rates, among other functions.
5G will turn data sharing into an even greater torrent than today. With the rise of quantum computing, which will make quick work of analysis of massive amounts of information, 5G can be the link that turns data collection into action quickly. That will change our approach to anticipating demand and the relationship of customers values to business. Logistics systems such as Amazon, which currently fill our homes with boxes and wasted packaging, could become circular, with automated approaches to capturing waste and recycling or reusing it efficiently.
Work Without the Workplace
The pace of growth in broadband capacity has changed the way traditional offices function and how people work. New age workplaces, influenced by the changing capabilities of technology, have reorganized dedicated office spaces by providing remote work options for employees.
With 5G, work will be possible almost everywhere the network reaches. The technology supports up to one million connections within a kilometer, with high-speed transfer capability so that even a moving train, airplane, or drone can stay connected. All those connections represent places where humans will provide control and judgment, doing the work of our times.
Supply Chain Transparency and Accountability
All those new connections, including the ones we put in our homes, will provide new transparency in the economy, if we demand that insight into how the businesses operate. With millions of connections, including to individual packages and packaging used in consumer products, our mobile phones will have the ability to interrogate a product before buying to establish that it meets our environmental and social responsibility standards.
5G is essential to environmental accountability becoming a convenient and fast step in the buying process. Imagine being able to visit Amazon, Walmart, or a local shop with the ability to screen out all carbon-contributing or socially irresponsible products from your shopping list. We can manage CO2 emissions, sending feedback from customers to make clear that unsustainable products and practices will not be tolerated. And with transparency, people can take greater control of the economy.
Smart packaging and infrastructure
The recycling system depends on a fixed collection process and the success of consumers in separating their recyclable materials from true waste. However, we know that many materials can be profitably recycled if the cost of collection is kept low. 5G can support smart packaging that talks back to the producer to help streamline collection.
An example of this would be designated recycling bins can be equipped with sensors that track the weight of collected material as well as sensors that can identify the type of material inside the container. This type of insight at the will allow recyclers and processors to build a collection of routing systems for efficient and coordinated pick up where each material can be targeted by the specialized recycler.
A smart infrastructure in the city and rural communities, which can be connected at high speed to the 5G network efficiently, will help create new combinations of services that create economic opportunity throughout the supply chain. 5G’s ability to connect billions of sensors and devices will give new insights into the complex modern problems we continuously face. 5G on its own is a tool, but combined with human creativity it is a potential silver bullet for sustainability challenges.