Since the creation of 1G in the 1980s, the internet has come a long way from simple voice calls. Approximately every decade, wireless connections get a major upgrade – a new “G” of connectivity. Using mostly 3G and 4G today, cell phones can access the internet, stream HD TV, video conference, and more; but there is no stopping there…

5G has begun implementation in 2019, and builds upon 4G technology with enhanced speed and efficiency. 5G promises to be 100 times faster and 1,000 times broader than its predecessor, while also boasting shorter delays in communication. 5G allows for direct connections between devices, without human interference, and has the capability to make wireless internet available everywhere.

5G will rely on new infrastructure to make these connections possible. The breakthrough technology will rely on three different spectrum bands: low-band, mid-band, and high-band (also called millimeter wave). Millimeter waves, though fast and efficient, can only travel short distances, and will require small cell towers to be placed about 250 meters apart. These smaller cells will communicate with base stations housing large antennae that will coordinate transmission and communication. Where it is difficult to build the small cell towers, satellites can assist with 5G connections and also take over communication in the event of a major disaster that could disrupt internet connection. Various satellite systems can enhance connections in remote areas, and take on different roles based on their location orbiting the Earth. With such big promises of speed and efficiency, 5G will require a greater network of infrastructure across the globe. 

The additional infrastructure and use of a broader spectrum is raising questions about environmental impact. The new age of wireless communication has the capability to make users become more green, but its long-term impacts remain unknown. New international standards are calling for less energy to be required for 5G as opposed to 4G, aiming to reduce power use in data transmission. Additionally, the adoption of smart technologies across the globe can help households and businesses track waste and pollution. Smart food sensors, for example, can detect food freshness and spoilage to help consumers cut back on food and agricultural waste.

However, negative impacts of 5G on the environment have the potential to arise, especially with an expected surge in subscribers. Additionally, concerns over the impacts of radiation have arisen, and environmentalists continue to research deformation of bird eggs laid near cell towers, and potential disruption of circadian rhythms. Decarbonization of systems will be crucial in coming years; as new infrastructure is built, companies will need to switch to renewable energy to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Toxic electronic waste will also need to be mitigated, through both the development of biodegradable materials and the recycling of old electronics.

The future of wireless connectivity is limitless, and with the implementation of 5G, network connections worldwide will be both strengthened and established in places they have never been before. As tech companies continue to advance and establish greater connections, sustainability must be at the forefront to ensure that we can continue to advance well into the future.