Investing in 5G is key to reducing Canada’s carbon footprint


October 14, 2020

Investing in 5G is key to reducing Canada’s carbon footprint

Mobile technologies will propel economic recovery and climate action

By Robert Ghiz and Tejas Rao

While Canadians remain focused on the challenges of COVID-19, we must not forget the formidable threat of climate change. Without meaningful action, climate change is expected to cause significant, long-term, and potentially irreversible damage to the environment, the economy, and our way of life.

While Canada has made progress toward achieving its climate action goals, meeting its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction commitments remains a challenge. In that light, it is not surprising that in the recent Speech from the Throne the Liberal government made clear that Canada’s economic recovery must not be separated from climate action.

The Federal Government’s plan includes worthy endeavours, such as retrofitting buildings and delivering more energy-efficient transit options. But what the plan does not address is how a fast and effective deployment of 5G wireless technology is crucial to reaching Canada’s carbon emission reduction commitments.

Previous studies commissioned by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) and developed by consulting firm Accenture have shown that 5G will add an estimated $40 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2026 and create an estimated 250,000 full-time equivalent jobs during the same period. A new CWTA report developed by Accenture, “Accelerating 5G in Canada: The Role of 5G in the Fight Against Climate Change” shows that in addition to economic gains and job growth, 5G will enable significant GHG emission reductions in the operation of mobile networks and across high-emitting Canadian industry sectors.

Despite the expected explosive growth in mobile data consumption, 5G networks will be more efficient than previous wireless technologies. For example, previous studies estimate that a general 5G cell site will use only 8-15 per cent of the energy of a current 4G site, while energy consumption by a mmWave 5G cell site could be as low as 2 per cent of that consumed by a 4G macro site. Further, industry experts have estimated that 5G could support up to a thousand-fold increase in mobile traffic while using only half the energy of current networks. This results in an estimated energy efficiency increase of 2,000 times.

Wireless technologies also provide high-emitting industries with the ability to reduce their own GHG emissions. Globally, it has been shown that the use of current and previous wireless technologies across industry sectors has resulted in GHG reductions 10 times greater than the mobile industry’s own emissions. Accenture estimates that with the implementation of 5G, mobile technologies will enable between 48-54 million (metric) tonnes of carbon dioxide emission (MTCO2e) abatement in Canada by 2025. That is the equivalent of taking 10.5 million passenger vehicles off the road for a full year. Moreover, it would account for up to 23 per cent of Canada’s current emission reduction targets by 2025.

Examples of 5G-enabled technologies that will help reduce GHG emissions include smart transportation solutions that optimize vehicle traffic patterns and reduce congestion, extended reality (XR) technologies that support the remote work and machine operation, and more sophisticated and widespread use of connected building technology to monitor and automate building HVAC and lighting systems.

5G and other wireless technologies can also help reduce other forms of environmental damage that are not linked to GHG emissions. Wireless monitoring technologies can be used to reduce water wastage from municipal water supply networks and monitor for hazardous waste and oil pipeline leaks. Such technologies will also be important for Canada’s farmers, helping to reduce their use of fertilizers and pesticides.

The importance of 5G to Canada’s economic recovery and its environment is clear. But to realize these benefits, policy makers must ensure the right policies are in place. Having invested over $70 billion on network infrastructure and radio spectrum to build Canada’s world-class mobile networks, it is estimated that Canada’s facilities-based carriers will need to invest another $26 billion to deploy 5G networks, plus billions more to acquire additional spectrum. This level of investment requires a stable regulatory environment that encourages investment and provides for a clear path to reasonable returns. The fast and effective deployment of 5G also requires a streamlining of siting approval processes to provide for fair, reasonable, and timely access to publicly-owned buildings, street lights, and other street furniture for the installation of wireless equipment. Finally, additional radio spectrum must be released on a timely basis.

We are excited about the positive impacts 5G technologies will have on our country, and Canada’s wireless industry is working hard to make 5G a reality. Now is the time for policymakers to ensure that Canada can fully realize the economic and environmental benefits of 5G. Now is the time to invest in a greener and more prosperous Canada.

Robert Ghiz

President & CEO, CWTA

Robert Ghiz is President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA). He serves as an Advisor on numerous Boards including the Prince’s Trust Advisory Council, the True Patriot Love Foundation, the Librarian Archives of Canada Foundation, and he is also Chair of the Mobile Giving Foundation Canada. Twice elected Premier of Prince Edward Island, Robert’s many accomplishments include his successful stewardship of PEI’s economy through the 2008 global financial collapse and his contributions to its record-setting economic growth following the recession. While Premier, Robert also led successful trade missions in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. Robert is proud to be the Canadian wireless industry’s champion in Ottawa, where he works to ensure the industry continues to enhance the personal lives and economic opportunities of Canadians across the country.

Tejas Rao

Managing Director, Global 5G Offering Lead, Network Services, Accenture

Tejas Rao is managing director and global 5G offering lead for Accenture’s network practice and has been with the company for almost 10 years having joined the company from Nokia. Based out of Toronto, he has over twenty years of experience in the mobile telecommunications industry across consulting, mobile devices, wireless voice and data communication systems, client-server architecture, and design of complex business application systems.

Tejas’ technical experience includes mobile device portfolio planning and sales, wireless technology marketing, next generation network evolution, building a national professional services organization, design and deployment of enhanced wireless data services such as Push-to-Talk and location-based services, web portals, eBusiness systems, business support systems, large-scale systems integration projects, project and product management, and strategic planning.

As a global 5G subject matter expert, Tejas has published several industry whitepapers and is regularly invited to speak at industry events and forums by organizations including Fierce Wireless, CTIA and the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance.

Correction: this post has been updated to clarify a figure originally quoted as 48-54 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emission abatement. The correct figure is 48-54 million (metric) tonnes.