5G environmental and social impacts? – part 1

In the last two years, we have heard many rumors and fake news about the environmental and social impacts of 5G. Some of them even linked the Covid-19 pandemic with the deployment of 5G networks…


Since the main focus of our company is related to 5G technology challenges, we have worked with a group of MBA students at HÉC Montréal Business School to investigate the topic of “How 5G will impacts our society and how and where could we help?“. We would like to share the result of this study in the form of two blog articles. This first part will classify the impacts and the second one will dig further into details and possible solutions.

Caution: this is not a scientific paper. Our intent is simply to share interesting ideas.

The main question we asked is: “Will 5G have impacts on the human life? If yes, in which fields?” The study found that yes, 5G has or will have different effects or impacts similar to any human endeavor and any new technology. 5G will most probably make impacts on human life. These impacts could be positive, negative or mixed. We have decided to focus on the negative ones in this study in order to understand if our approach with real-time 5G network data and AI can be useful to address any of them.

Some 5G impact examples

  • 80% of the actual mobile phones (about 6 billion today…) are not compatible with 5G and will need to be replaced in the near future. How will those phones be recycled?
  • Similarly, a good portion of the deployed 3G/4G/LTE network need to be modernized and the same question can be asked on the level of recycling of that equipment.
  • More consumers, more smartphones & IoT devices and new innovative industrial use cases will also call for more antennas (specially to support high band frequencies), an overall larger mobile network needing more electrical consumption (and probably generating more greenhouse gas emissions where energy is produced with fossil fuels).
  • On the ecosystem, there are new studies, mentioned in a report by Columbia Climate School [9], showing possible impacts on living things like birds (nesting, migration) after a long exposition to radio towers. An older study by Warnke [27] discovered that cellular devices could negatively impact bees. In this study, beehives exposed to cellular waves may have suffered from impaired navigation abilities.

These examples show that there are different types of impacts. In short, they can be classified into two mains categories: social and environmental impacts.

5G Environmental impacts

At it is shown in above examples, environmental impacts are easier to study and to measure and therefore we have seen more research papers and reports being published on the matter (refer to resources section below). Indeed, whether it is the impact on ecosystems (e.g., on living things), on the mass of future waste or the use of resources, these impacts can currently be measured and are more confirmed. These concrete elements are often used as inputs in the deployment plans of 5G networks and are thus better understood and calculated. The main environmental issues linked to the implementation of the 5G network come from manufacturing building blocks of the 5G infrastructure (towers, radios, transport network, virtual core, etc.) and the need to use new devices (smartphones, FWA and industrial modems, IoT devices, etc.). We can subdivide the environmental group into waste impacts, resources impacts and ecosystem impacts. We will provide details on each in part 2 of our article.

5G Social impacts

On the other hand we have social impacts. Social impacts are the effects on people and communities that happens as a result of an action or inaction, an activity, project, program or a policy. They are much more difficult to understand and analyze. The information seems less concrete. There’s a lack of data and opinions diverge enormously. These can be further classified in impacts on urban furniture (street/city design), then impacts on health and finally on security. The impacts on urban furniture can be analyzed only when 5G is well and truly established in dense areas and when the companies carrying out the deployment decide on the type of installation to be deployed in our cities. We shall see many new small cells probably incorporated into the street furniture. Information regarding the impacts on the health of citizens is rather mixed. Moreover, considering the uncertainty of these impacts, this is the subject where we seem to find the most articles using disinformation. The impact on security will depend on legislation and requires a thorough understanding of 5G in order to comprehend its potential future impacts on businesses and consumers. Hence for now, most of these social impacts are speculative and unconfirmed (which does not mean they should not be studied). Again, we will provide details on each impact group in part 2 of our article.

A summary of the potential 5G impacts

The potential 5G impacts could therefore be summarized with the diagrambelow:

Our study carried on in detailing these six main impact areas and listing some existing and potential solutions to lower the negative outcome to an acceptable level for all.

It also revealed that many social impacts may be due to a lack of transparency regarding 5G cellular technology and a lack of real-time data to share facts and hopefully evidences on the real impacts. With increased access to data, there could be new research performed by 5G stakeholders. Internally, we discussed how our real-time AI-based solution could possibly be used to help address impacts on resources and ecosystem.

Here are some examples:

  • Electrical Consumption of 5G sites: Collecting real-time data on the electrical consumption of 5G sites (e.g., continuously collecting power level of devices emitting to the radio tower and vice-versa). This data could then be used as input for advanced AI models aiming to minimize the energy consumption of each site by optimizing the power level of radios and connected devices.
  • Application Optimization on EDGE: Again, collecting real-time data end-to-end latency, bandwidth usage and other application-level characteristics could enable the computing of the best possible location on the network to limit resource consumption. For example, a 5G and AI-based surveillance camera service could be optimized by placing the AI function on EDGE therefore avoiding sending the video feed up to the cloud and limiting expensive on-device compute power.
  • Open 5G Data for Impact Research: Real-time collection of 5G network data could be shared with stakeholders (University Research Groups, government entities, cities/municipalities, citizen groups (NPOs and NGOs), 5G network and device manufacturers, etc.) for improved transparency, to stimulate new 5G research and help address concerns from citizens.
  • Other ideas? Do you have other ideas for us? if so, please share!

LatenceTech is motivated to work with a mobile operator in developing real-time tools to collect data, perform monitoring and help reduce environmental and social impacts of 5G networks. Contact us if you are interested.

In the second part of this article, we will discuss further the solutions and concrete actions which could be applied to lower the environmental and social impact of 5G as well as how we (citizens and society) and the LatenceTech could play a more active role.

LatenceTech team

Special Thanks to the HEC Montréal MBA team (see list below) and Joseph EL-Khoury (MBA, PhD), Teaching Assistant at Pôle IDEOS at HEC Montréal Business School.

  • Louay Haouari
  • Clémence Hauduc
  • Ibrahima-Kalil Kaba
  • Laurence Lebel
  • Jacques Mikael Noupeu Nguemecheu

Resources section

List of articles consulted by the MBA team for the study

  1. 5Gradar. 5G security : everything you need to know. Online <https://www.5gradar.com/features/5g-security-5g-networks-contain-security-flaws-from-day-one > consulté le 29 juin 2021  
  2. 5G Canada Conseil. Explicateurs 5G. Online < https://www.5gcc.ca/fr/ressources/  > Consulté le 28 juin 2021uay: 
  3. Ariase. La 5G est-elle dangereuse pour la santé?. Online <https://blog.ariase.com/mobile/dossiers/5g-sante-danger> consulté le 20 juin 2021 
  4. BBC. Does 5G pose health risk?. Online <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48616174> consulté le 20 juin 2021 
  5. UniversFreeBox. Recyclage des vieux mobile. <https://www.universfreebox.com/article/59290/recyclage-des-vieux-mobiles-un-autre-gros-chantier-pour-orange-free-bouygues-et-sfr> consulté le 20 juin 2021 
  6. Canada.ca. Comprendre le code de sécurité 6. Online <https://www.canada.ca/fr/sante-canada/services/securite-et-risque-pour-sante/radiation/exposition-professionelle-reglementation/code-securite-6-lignes-directrices-exposition-radiofrequences.html> consulté le 20 juin 2021 
  7. Cengn. 5G towers in Canada: is there a health concern?. Online <https://www.cengn.ca/5g-in-canada-is-there-a-health-concern/> consulté le 26 juin 2021  
  8. Cengn. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS): is it a threat to 5G? <https://www.cengn.ca/electromagnetic-hypersensitivity-ehs-is-it-a-threat-to-5g/  > consulté le 23 juin 2021
  9. Columbia Climate School. The coming 5G revolution: How will it affect the environment?. Online <https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/08/13/coming-5g-revolution-will-affect-environment/ > consulté le26 juin 2021
  10. Cwta acts. Pylônes et antennes. Online <https://www.cwta.ca/fr/for-consumers/tower-2/  > consulté le 20 juin 2021
  11. Federal communication commission. Environmental health trust . Online <https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10122280631517/EHT%20%205G%20Open%20Letter%2012_9_2020-2.pdf > consulté le 30 juin 2021
  12. Future Tech. La 5G dans le monde : état des lieux. Online < https://www.futura-sciences.com/tech/actualites/reseau-5g-monde-etat-lieux-83261/ > consulté le 22 juin 2021.
  13. Gouvernement du Canada. Comprendre le Code de sécurité 6 : Lignes directrices de Santé Canada sur l’exposition aux radiofréquences. Online <https://www.canada.ca/fr/sante-canada/services/securite-et-risque-pour-sante/radiation/exposition-professionelle-reglementation/code-securite-6-lignes-directrices-exposition-radiofrequences.html > consulté le 22 juin 2021
  14. Gouvernement du Canada. Qu’est-ce que le 5G? <https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/069.nsf/fra/00077.html > consulté le 22 juin 2021
  15. La Presse. 5G : Quels risques pour la santé?. Online <https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/techno/2019-10-21/5g-quels-risques-pour-la-sante  > Consulté le 27 juin 2021
  16. La presse. 5G : Pas de «mur d’investissement» pour les opérateurs, selon un rapport. Online < https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/techno/2019-10-08/5g-pas-de-mur-d-investissement-pour-les-operateurs-selon-un-rapport > consulté le 29juin 2021
  17. L’usine Nouvelle. Les investissements dans les réseaux 5G devraient doubler en 2020. Online < https://www.usinenouvelle.com/article/les-investissements-dans-les-reseaux-5g-devraient-doubler-en-2020.N990079 > consulté le 20 juin 2021
  18. Natureportfolio. What 5G means for our health. Online <https://www.nature.com/articles/d42473-019-00009-7> consulté le 26 juin 2021  
  19. Protégezvous. Faut-il avoir peur de la 5G? Online <https://www.protegez-vous.ca/sante-et-alimentation/5g-sante > consulté le 22 juin 2021
  20. Partenariat possible : Laboratoire d’innovation urbaine de Montréal. Online <https://laburbain.montreal.ca/tests-et-acceptabilite-des-technologies-ido5g > consulté le 22 juin 2021
  21. ScienceDirect. 5G Technology and the future of architecture. Online <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050921004816 > consulté le 29 juin 2021 
  22. Scikoop. Online <https://www.scikoop.com/ > consulté le 22 juin 2021 •Sdxcantral. What is the environmental impact of 5G?. Online https://www.sdxcentral.com/5g/definitions/what-is-environmental-impact-of-5g/  consulté le 23 juin 2021
  23. SiecleDigital. 64 pays ont déjà accès à la 5G. Online < https://www.futura-sciences.com/tech/actualites/reseau-5g-monde-etat-lieux-83261/ > consulté 26 juin 2021
  24. Telstra Exchange. 5 surveys of 5G show EME levels well below safety limits. Online <https://exchange.telstra.com.au/5-surveys-of-5g-show-eme-levels-well-below-safety-limits/> consulté le 26 juin 2021
  25. University of washington. What will 5G mean for the Environment. Online <https://jsis.washington.edu/news/what-will-5g-mean-for-the-environment/ > consulté le 26 juin 2021
  26. Université du Québec. Préparer l’arrivée de la 5G et de ses dispositifs connectés. Online <https://www.uquebec.ca/reseau/fr/medias/actualites-du-reseau/preparer-larrivee-de-la-5g-et-de-ses-dispositifs-connectes > consulté le 22 juin 2021
  27. Bees, Birds and Mankind – Destroying Nature by ‘Electrosmog’. Ulrich Warnke. Online https://www.naturalscience.org/publications/brochure-bees-birds-mankind-destroying-nature-electrosmog/

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