It has been a while since I last felt the need to add to my blog. The reasons have been many. University life always gets a little hectic once the semester opens. It is “grant season” that moment of the year when we academics must write application after application to various funding agencies in the hope that some of them may see fit to give us some money to keep our labs going. Academic freedom gives way to academic begging at this time of year. So I had many reasons not to write a blog post.
But Tamar Zandberg and COP26 raised me from my sloth. What a meeting it was! Grand declarations on how we will be zero emissions by 2050. Grander talk of how we can reduce plastic waste. Positively waxing lyrical on renewables! All in all a brighter and better future.
Which is why it is a shame that another of her fellow ministers, Yoaz Hendel, is about to preside over the introduction of the most ungreen of technologies ever. Namely, the rollout of 5G. Even more ironic is that after this monster of a technology is in place, it is Zandberg’s ministry that is responsible for overseeing it! Simply put, 5G, the new generation of cellphone technology, is an unparalleled energy hog that will push up the national electricity requirements by at least 10 percent. That’s a lot of carbon emissions to overcome. About 0.6 tones per person annually or about 5.3 million tones annually, given our current population.
I have written about the energy requirements of 5G before (see my blog) but I think the time is right to rub a politician’s nose in it. It is very easy to talk the talk when it comes to the environment. Much harder to walk the walk. So, Tamar, are you going to sit down and have a chat with Yoaz about this ungodly mess he is going to get you into? Probably not.
I am not the only one sounding the bell. In an eye-opening article by Sally Beare in the magazine Envirotec the same arguments are lain out, including statements by industry itself. For instance, this telling quote from a Huawei analyst: “…Once base stations, data centres and devices are added up, telecommunications could consume over 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, says Huawei analyst Dr Anders Andrae (compared to approximately 11% currently). Compare that with global aviation’s 2.5% share of GHGs: In a worst-case scenario, 5G could create almost ten times that by 2030.”
I doubt that Zandberg is aware of this. What is for sure is that Yoaz isn’t. He may be politically savvy, but I imagine he is a novice when it comes to the nitty gritty of the communications world. He probably thinks that 5G is just what we need to give us the edge. Most likely because that is what his advisers have told him. But then industry tells you what it wants you to hear… Not all industry, sometimes the truth just slips out unintended, as Sally noted, “5G’s benefits have been exaggerated, according to Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. ‘Human societies do not have an urgent need for 5G,’ he says. ‘What people need now is broadband, and the main content of 5G is not broadband.’”
What we actually need is fiber optic cables to every house for top line broadband (something that actually is being done today) and a better 4G system. 5G is just a tekkie’s wet dream. A solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
Let’s get to the bone of the matter. 5G is supposed to grant us unparalleled data transmission on our phones and wireless devices. To do so it is going to implement two major changes. First, it will move to higher frequencies than those used for 4G. The current frequencies of transmission are around 700 MHz to 1.9 GHz. Ultimately 5G will work at around 27 to 29 GHz. Without getting too technical this means many more channels of data.
Second, new antenna technology will allow transmissions to be over directed beams from the base station to the user. This means that two people standing next to each other could use the same data channel concurrently, meaning more density of data. However, there is a downside. At those frequencies, signals do not travel so far. They are readily absorbed by the atmosphere, so the estimated range of these new antennas is up to 100 meters, compared to the km range of the current 4G. So that means densification. Many more antennas than at present, over 10 times more. In order to direct the beams to the user (this is the meaning of “MIMO” that appears in 5G blurbs, Multiple Input Multiple Output) you need a lot more power. In fact 3 times more power. As I mentioned in my original blog a typical 5G base station requires input power of 18 kW compared to 6 kW for 4G or the equivalent of the average power of 73 households. We have one example of a fully-fledged working 5G system and that is in China. The power requirements are frightful and this was confirmed by reports that the Chinese close down the network at night to save electricity.
And now for the punchline you never noticed. One imagines that people are going to object when 1000s of base stations are placed all around their towns. They will turn to their councils and their mayors demand to know how these monstrosities got planning permission?! What they will discover is that tucked into the Enabling law of the budget that was just passed is a clause placed there by the Ministry of Communications. That clause (more like a chapter) is a change to the building laws exempting the placement of small cell antennas that have a transmit power up to 6W from building permission. As long as the operator can show that they meet the Ministry regulations they can be placed where the operator wants and you cannot argue against it! Small cell antennas are the ones to serve 5G.
So Tamar, how green are you?