For years mobile connectivity has been touted as a clean technology. The dematerialisation of telecommunications networks, the digitalisation of the workplace, and the potential reduction in commuter numbers enabled by mobile connectivity all bring with them obvious and significant environmental gains. But according to a major new report from mobile operator O2, we have barely scratched the surface of the environmental and cost savings that will soon be offer.
The company this week published an analysis of the efficiency savings that could result from the national roll out of next generation 5G networks. It concluded the faster speed and universal connectivity promised by 5G could unlock many of the gains ‘smart city’ enthusiasts have been talking about for decades.
The report, entitled The value of 5G for cities and communities, suggests some of the biggest benefits could come with the deployment of low cost, but ultra-fast 5G sensors across the energy grid.
It argues 5G could prove integral to much of the functionality promised by smart grid technologies, enabling dynamic pricing, demand-side response services, intelligent energy storage, and smart electric vehicle (EV) charging. The report calculates this functionality could knock £145 a year off the average domestic energy bill and £1,600 a year off vehicle fuel costs by enabling the roll out of an extra 1.3 million EVs by 2025. In addition, a 5G enabled grid would save the UK economy £3.4bn a year by reducing the risk of blackouts and brownouts, the report claims, while also cutting carbon emissions by around 6.4 million tonnes a year.
However, it is not just in the energy sector where O2 is predicting major environmental savings as a result of a 5G network. The report calculates smart fridges that use mobile connectivity to let people know what food they already have will help cut food waste and curb costs for households by an estimated £236 a year. Similarly, smart sensors in bins promise to enable more efficient refuse collection that O2 reckons could trim £66 a year off council bills and potentially improve recycling rates.
In addition, there are hopes the successful trial of 5G enabled street lights by O2 parent company Telefonica in the Spanish cities of Malaga and Santander could maximise the energy efficiency savings already on offer from LED upgrades, delivering further emissions and cost savings.
O2 also envisages improved video conferencing and sensors playing a key role in optimising health, social care, and public transport services, reducing the need for in-person GP appointments, notifying rail networks of the need for maintenance upgrades ahead of failures, and improving traffic flow in real time.
“5G sensors on railway lines will drive improvements in predictive maintenance, reclaiming an estimated £440m in lost productivity for the UK economy and regaining the average rail commuter 2.6 hours a year,” the report predicts. “Meanwhile, 5G-enabled road management systems, able to respond seamlessly to traffic volumes, will reduce the time spent stuck in traffic by 10 per cent for the UK’s 5.6 million vehicle commuters. Commuters will also be better connected to street-level data via mobile journey planning apps linked to connected street furniture such as lamp posts and bus stops, helping them better plan journeys and avoid congested routes.”