The environmental impact of mobile networks
When we think about the environmental impact of mobile networks, we often think about energy consumption. However, there are other dimensions that have to be taken into account, especially when we consider the materiality of the network and the devices needed for access. Yet, there is also another important aspect to consider: induction. That is, the increased use of an application or a service that a technological advancement enables. In the case of mobile networks, such as 5G or 6G, the applications themselves push for a higher network utilization. Increased used implies the need for higher capacity (effectively resulting in more base stations using higher frequency), more specialized hardware and processing capability, resulting in a higher need for energy and materials.
Mobile networks are seen as both an enabler and a problem for sustainability. While it is argued that they can bring benefits in a range of sectors, due to digitalization and optimization, the implementation of the infrastructure needed to provide these services as well as its operation has material needs. We argue that the whole life cycle of the devices needs to be accounted for and that we need to move beyond the energy consumption per bit as a measure of efficiency and start paying attention to total energy consumption, which may increase with increased traffic demand.
If you are interested in this topic, check the following articles I have written along with Hug March: