- During a speech at the DC5G conference, Sara Neff, senior vice president for sustainability at the Kilroy Realty Corporation, outlined two environmental scenarios that could come in the wake of 5G: "5Genia" or "5G-rbage".
- In her "5Genia" scenario, Neff said 5G technology could enable all manner of new innovations like smart metering, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and contribute to greater building energy efficiency. There could also be a reduction of environmental impact from 4G, which she said contributes about 2% in global emissions in large part due to the need to cool data centers. "5G may be the thing that saves us," she said.
- Neff warned, however, that the need to dispose of millions of electronic devices made obsolete by 5G could create a "5G-rbage" scenario, which would be proliferated by the evolution of connected devices and infrastructure. She suggested to avoid this scenario, 5G must work with existing devices.
Neff's keynote address at DC5G was something of a rarity at the conference in Arlington, VA as it painted a more gloomy picture of the technology, which has otherwise been heralded as a way to close the digital divide, connect more people and enable businesses to be more efficient. But Neff did say that 5G has the potential to bring many benefits, including enabling autonomous vehicles (AVs) to be successful and safe on city streets.
"This is 5Genia: We wake up in our comfortable and efficient homes, we drive safely and conveniently to work, where we're safe and comfortable at work and go home," she said. "I like that world. I want to live in that world. 5G can make that world possible if we're enabling the right people."
But if the use of 5G encourages widespread solo AV use, Neff said that may cause more problems than it solves. The infrastructure needs the split-second decision-making that would be aided by 5G to keep all road users safe, but without encouragement to share AVs, that could spell disaster for the climate. "If we all own our own AVs, things kind of break down environmentally," she said.
When it comes to using 5G technology in the ongoing fight against climate change, Neff urged city and business leaders to be deliberate about sharing best practices and not to hoard solutions for themselves. City-level initiatives like Bloomberg Philanthropies' American Cities Climate Challenge have encouraged similar solution-sharing, while the growth in city-level climate emergency declarations could similarly encourage a race to the top.
"It does not do any good if your company or your municipality has figured out some solution to a 5G-created problem and you don't share it with anybody else," Neff said. "That is not how climate change works."