Fifth-generation technology (5G) is poised to become the new standard for broadband networks. Many countries are already equipped with the infrastructure to support 5G, and the new network has several promising benefits. For one, it’s estimated that 5G will be 100 times faster than 4G. Its latency will also be lower, which means transferring data between an original source and its next destination will be rapid—a boon for advanced technology like VR headsets. Finally, 5G will have an overall capacity 1,000 times that of 4G, with the ability to support much more data.
These benefits are compelling, and certainly, businesses and consumers alike will want to experience them firsthand. To do so, they’ll need new, 5G compatible devices. What does this mean for e-waste?
The Implications of Widespread 5G Adoption
Everyday users will want the latest devices, but businesses will also want to keep pace with the competition and equip their teams with the fastest devices. This means there will be a rapid transition to new phones, tablets, and laptops that can support 5G, with 4G devices quickly being rendered obsolete.
Unfortunately, the demand for new devices will only add to the existing global e-waste problem. As of 2019, 53.6 metric tons of e-waste were created, and only 17.4% of end-of-life technology was recycled. By the year 2030, the volume of e-waste is anticipated to double its 2014 levels. So, while 5G will revolutionize business in many important ways, from allowing companies to leverage IoT data to support AI implementations, it’s also going to create the biggest turnover in technology since the transition from black and white to colour television. If all of these unwanted devices aren’t recycled, they’ll pile up in places like Ghana, where e-waste pollution causes toxin levels to soar.
Where Are We Now with 5G?
Some mobile phone providers in Canada have already begun offering 5G, but it’s believed that the service will improve over the coming years. The big shift is expected to happen in 2022. Likewise, the majority of U.S. subscribers have yet to switch over; while 75% of the nation has coverage, only 8% of devices are connected to 5G.
Since most devices in use are still only 4G-compatible and the tipping point is expected to be a few years away, now is the time to brace ourselves for the 5G fallout.
Minimizing the Impact
Although 4G devices will quickly become obsolete to the consumers and businesses who are willing to invest in 5G, there will be an opportunity to repurpose these outdated devices. For instance, in rural areas and underdeveloped nations, 5G may not be available for many years. Moreover, even though Apple’s latest smartphone is the iPhone 12, iPhone 7 remains the most popular model on the market. This suggests that while there is always a demand for the newest technology, there’s also opportunity for reuse.
Of course, all devices eventually reach the end of their lifespan, which is why we have to go beyond reuse. We might therefore approach the 5G revolution as a call to move closer to a circular economy by focusing on manufacturing with recycled materials, recycling materials from obsolete devices, and exploring new options for recycling. It may be some time before these methods are refined, but in the meantime, consumers and businesses can do their part to minimize waste by committing to responsible recycling practices.
Does your organisation have 4G devices that need to be refurbished or recycled? Email us here or call us at 888-496-8087 and we will be able to help.