Verizon Racing Towards 5G But Ignoring Clean Energy

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This week, Verizon announced its launch of the world’s first commercial 5G network initially in four U.S. cities, with plans to expand nationally. 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networking and is the next frontier that promises faster speeds and connectivity. While this is a massive move for the company, its network expansion is built with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

Communities and the climate shouldn’t be compromised in a race to reach faster networks. Join us in urging Verizon to stop being the industry laggard and finally make a commitment to 100% clean energy by 2025.

What is 5G?

A 5G network has been widely anticipated for quite a while and has even been called the “fourth industrial revolution” by some telecom experts. Transitioning from 1G to 2G took us from an era of pagers to the dawn of SMS texting. Progressing to 3G increased connection speed by four times, and 4G is our current stage, where we stream and share live video. This new 5G era promises longer battery life, larger data, and more reliability.

But what about environmental impacts?

4G allows for 1,000 devices to be connected per square kilometer, and 5G brings a drastic increase, with one million devices per square kilometer. These devices include not only smartphones, but a wide range of vehicles, appliances, and other technologies that are all part of the growing “internet of things.” This could pose ethical challenges, because electronic devices create harmful environmental and social impacts from their mining and production to the hazards of disposal. Having space for more devices does not directly mean that production will skyrocket right away, but it’s something to be wary of as more “smart” appliances appear on the market.  

A positive aspect of 5G is that it’s more directional and efficient, and this could result in less energy and power being wasted. Verizon claims 5G can help save cities 70 percent energy usage for networks and has cited that it can unlock benefits for cities in areas of public safety, transit, and utilities. Verizon cites that 5G can usher in more driverless cars, public cameras, and magnetometers to track traffic flows and volumes. The company regularly touts the environmental savings its products can offer, but these calculations are based on a number of assumptions and are hard to verify. What we do know for sure is that Verizon uses almost no clean energy to power its current networks and servers and has no plans to scale up its clean energy to match T-Mobile’s goal of 100% wind and solar power by 2021.

Does this make Verizon a leader in clean energy?

Unfortunately, no.

There is no certainty that all cities will implement the list of ideas that could curb energy usage once they loop into 5G. For years, Verizon’s energy focus has been solely on lowering its energy intensity. However, unlike its competitors, Verizon has yet to make any meaningful movement towards powering its network with clean energy. This means Verizon still continues to use (and demand) power derived from fossil fuels that spur climate change. Verizon is using less than 2% clean energy. By contrast, T-Mobile is already well on its way to 100% clean energy, and AT&T is approaching 30% clean energy. 

Climate change is not a distant threat to worry about tomorrow. It is here, and its effects are already devastating communities worldwide.  Recent studies indicate that the United States is one of the countries that will suffer the biggest economic impacts from climate change.  Alongside intensified natural disasters from climate change, the use of fossil fuels already harms residents living near extraction sites and power plants. We need to reduce emissions and seek efficiency, and we must switch to using the most sustainable resources. This means displacing the need for fossil fuels by expanding clean energy. 

Verizon is missing its opportunity to push for expanding clean energy infrastructure. Despite being the first company to launch 5G, it will be a laggard in its field until it commits to achieving 100% clean energy. Technological progress and a more connected world are important, but it matters how that goal is achieved. Green America urges Verizon to ensure its new progress is made stronger by committing to clean energy now for communities and the climate. Join thousands of others who have called on Verizon to take action today.

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