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Using 5G to Help Protect the Environment

June 28, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
Forest Cerro Blanco, Ecuador

WASHINGTON — What does a threat sound like? In rainforests across the world it can sound like a chainsaw or a gunshot. Thanks to the nonprofit Rainforest Connection, recording devices around the world are listening for these sounds to alert environmentalists of potential illegal activities.

Right now, those “guardians” in 22 countries use 3G and 4G technology to upload recordings into the cloud. AI computer systems analyze them and send alerts to people on the ground if there’s potential illegal activity, said Bourhan Yassin, the CEO of Rainforest Connection.

“Our mission, we generally focus on using sound acoustics to evaluate the environment and monitor ecosystems. Sound is one of the most profound ways to understand what’s going on in a forest,” Yassin said during an event about 5G’s environmental impact held by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Tuesday.

Surrounded by others with backgrounds in 5G, Yassin spoke about the potential uses and benefits of expanding 5G connectivity, which is more energy efficient.

5G is “all of these technologies that are cutting across industries that are going to allow us to carry a lot more data and be more energy efficient with it,” said Joe Kane, the director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy at ITIF.

When 4G first started about a decade ago, no one knew applications like ride-sharing or food delivery would take off, but it created this economic boom in its wake, Kane said. And 5G is expected to do the same, but at an even higher rate as it allows for more technology to become interconnected.

Americans have only recently started using 5G for their cellphones as the Federal Communications Commission auctions off 5G spectrum. Utilizing 5G networks helped companies like T-Mobile provide faster service and become more energy efficient because it takes less energy to power, explained John Hunter, the company’s senior director of Technology and Engineering Policy. 

The company is also working with BMW on automation that will use 5G to navigate, he said. And that’s one of the places he’s most excited about seeing the environmental transformation, explaining that 5G technology will help people navigate to avoid traffic, cutting down emissions and saving energy.

Smart technologies in manufacturing and agriculture will have similar environmental impacts, said Grace Koh, Nokia’s vice president of government affairs in North America. 

“We have a saying here at Nokia ‘there’s no green without digital’ and this reflects the unique benefits of enhanced connectivity and digitalization in this fight against climate change,” Koh said.

At Nokia, they have changed to “smart manufacturing,” which has reduced product defects by about 50% and the process helps get items to market 50% quicker, all of which makes for a more sustainable process and less waste, Koh said. The company is working with other manufacturers to expand these processes.

The company is also working on environmental sensors to report severe weather in real-time, she said. 

“5G is the beginning of connecting things and 6G is going to accelerate that, amplify that in a huge way. So it’s going to be less about the consumer network and much more about connecting and digitizing things so we can manipulate, control and understand the data better,” Koh said.

Madeline can be reached by email at maddie@thewellnews.com or on Twitter @ByMaddieHughes

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