Never before has a mobile phone switchboard been so decried. 5G does not only arouse fears, and sometimes fantasies, about health. There is now an outcry about its impact on the environment.

What environmental consequences could 5G have? We would need to know precisely the extent of its deployment around the world to make projections. Ideally, a multi-criteria life cycle analysis of 5G should also be carried out and compared with 4G. Such information does not exist. However, it is possible to put forward scenarios.

More mobile networks

What is unanimously agreed is that 5G will have a rebound effect on user behavior. If they have more bandwidth, less latency, and more network capacity, they will consume more data and turn to bandwidth-hungry applications such as video streaming, video games, or virtual and augmented reality. It is already the case in South Korea, where 5G is available since spring 2019 from the three major national operators. The equipment manufacturer Ericsson even predicts that one in five users worldwide will absorb 200 GB of mobile internet per month by 2025 as a result of 5G.

Users may end up turning away from fixed-line networks and constantly switching to the mobile network via 5G antennas and boxes.

Uncertain usage of 5G networks

The debate is focusing on the energy consumption of 5G. However, there is no scientific consensus on this issue. Operators often communicate that 5G will be more energy-efficient than the previous generation. Therefore,  antennas would remain on standby for a good part of the night.

The premature renewal of smartphones

Millions of 4G devices will be scrapped prematurely in favor of brand new, 5G-compatible devices. Smartphones, tablets, and even Always Connected PCs are affected. According to another Ericsson report, there were already 13 million subscribers to 5G commercial offers at the end of December, and the billion is expected to be reached by 2023. So much so that the research firm IDC predicts that 5G will bring new life to the mature smartphone market. Compatible devices should account for 9% of total sales this year and rise to 30% by 2023. It is enough to break the record of 1.4 billion smartphones sold in one year. To this should be added the increase in the number of connected objects such as smartwatches. Because people will be encouraged to equip themselves more and more with 5G.

New equipment on the operator side

As of this year, 5G will require the installation of new antennas in the 3.5 GHz frequency band in France. They will initially be added to the existing base stations, with a 4G core network (5G called non-standalone). When the time comes to use millimeter frequencies, by 2022/2023, a new type of antenna, the small cell, will be deployed. Since they will have a reduced range, more than the ones we know today will be needed to achieve the same coverage. At about the same time, operators will change their core network equipment to comply with the second 5G specification (5G standalone) and switch to a true 5G core network.

What can be said is that switching to this standard will undoubtedly require the production of a lot of new network equipment with many negative consequences for the environment.