Climate Change, 5G and the Internet of Things

August 14, 2021


The unbridled energy consumption of our wireless revolution, 4G, 5G and the Internet of things is contributing to climate change.

5G requires millions of new cellular antennas called “small cells” -basically shorter cell towers- to be built in neighborhoods directly in front of our homes. These 5G antennas are to connect with billions of new wirelessly connected “smart” devices referred to as the Internet of Things (IOT). 

Wireless companies are well aware that 5G will increase overall evergy consumption

David Bruno, an expert in electromagnetic pollution, obtained a document from the National Frequencies Authority (ANFR) concerning the installation of an Orange relay antenna site in Marseille. According to him, “the colossal power of 5G antennas is to be feared”. He analyzed the Orange document and found the 5G relay antennas in the 3400 to 3800 MHz band will by themselves emit electromagnetic radiation twice as strong as the sum of the relay antennas of 2G, 3G and 4G technologies combined and in the near future, people living near relay antennas will be exposed to power density levels in W / m², at least 3 times higher than those of today.” 

Massive Increases in 5G Equipment = Massive Increases in Energy Use

Click here to download EHT’s  5G and Climate Change Factsheet.

Researchers are warning us that the energy consumption of 5G and the IOT is growing and projected to skyrocket.

5G is NOT Sustainable

The demand for technology is outstripping the increase in efficiency.  The energy consumption will rise sharply due to the ever increasing IOT energy demands at every stage of the lifecycle of 5G equipment, from device manufacture to data centers to data transmissions, and networks. 

  • 70.2 million “small cell” tower bases to be installed by 2025. 
  • 500 billion devices are expected to be connected to the Internet by 2030. 
  • 8.9 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide by 2024.
  • 60% growth a year in production of wireless peripherals (Wi-Fi/ Bluetooth speakers, appliances, wearables). 
  • 7 fold increase in mobile data traffic globally projected between 2017 and 2022. 

In economics, the Jevons Paradox is when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, however demand and consumption increase as well. Thus- the end result is overall increased use of the resource, despite efficiency gains. 

5G is an Energy Hog 

“A lurking threat behind the promise of 5G delivering up to 1,000 times as much data as today’s networks is that 5G could also consume up to 1,000 times as much energy.”

 -IEEE Spectrum, 5G’s Waveform Is a Battery VampireA typical 5G base station consumes up to twice or more the power of a 4G base station, according to a new report entitled “Operators facing power cost crunch.”  Energy costs can grow even more at higher frequencies,  in order to fuel the higher number of antennas and the denser layer of small cells. In addition, edge compute facilities needed to support local processing and new internet of things (IoT) services will add to the overall network power usage. Although exact estimates differ by source,  MTN says the industry consensus is that 5G will double to triple energy consumption for mobile operators, once networks scale.This 5G energy report was featured in an article by Fierce Wireless entitled “5G base stations use a lot more energy than 4G base stations: MTN

We Must Consider the Environmental Footprint of the Digital Ecosystem. 

“Behind each byte we have mining and metal processing, oil extraction and petrochemicals, manufacturing and intermediate transports, public works (to bury the cables) and power generation with coal and gas. As a result, the carbon footprint of the global digital system is already 4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s energy consumption rises by 9% per year.”

 – Jean-Marc Jancovici, President of The Shift Project, member of the French High Climate Council

5G Harms Bees, Trees and Birds

“The electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today.” -The Department of Interior in a 2014 letter on the impact of cell towers on migratory birds.

  • Research finds bees and pollinators absorb the higher frequencies of 5G between 3% to 370% higher leading the scientists to warn, “This could lead to changes in insect behaviour, physiology, and morphology over time….” 
  • Research finds wireless frequencies interfere with bird’s navigation systems, their circadian rhythms,  and can harm their development and reproduction. 
  • Research finds trees can be harmed by the radiation from cellular antennas. Effects include altered growth, thinner cell walls and adverse biochemical changes. 

EHT has a compendium of research on impacts to trees, bees and birds here.

Damage to the Tree Canopy

Trees play a vital role in mitigating climate change, sequestering millions of tons of carbon that would otherwise pollute our climate. The installation of 5G  equipment often requires heavy pruning and digging. This will clearly impact the canopy and root system of our trees. Read the Sierra Clubs testimony to Washington DC about the impact to trees from the 5G small cell deployment. 

All things wireless is NOT the answer. 

“Wireless devices, antenna networks and data centers are consuming an ever- increasing portion of the global energy supply, based largely on coal…”

-“Re-Inventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks

 According to the Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications;

  • “Our energy calculations show that by 2015, wireless cloud will consume up to 43 TWh, compared to only 9.2 TWh in 2012, an increase of 460%. This is an increase in carbon footprint from 6 megatonnes of CO2 in 2012 to up to 30 megatonnes of CO2 in 2015, the equivalent of adding 4.9 million cars to the roads. Up to 90% of this consumption is attributable to wireless access network technologies, data centres account for only 9%…”
  • “…wireless access networks are clearly the biggest and most inefficient consumer of energy in the cloud environment.” Solutions for Fast, Safe and Secure Internet Connections Do Exist.  

A national wireline system can guarantee for everyone a superior foundation of Internet access, unequalled connectivity speed, safety, privacy, security, energy efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

Wireless devices use energy even when you are not using them- in standby mode. 

The most significant factor driving the increase in network standby related energy use of connected devices is the increasing number of connected devices. Some of the key products that appear to be increasing global network standby energy use are:

  • Voice assistant speakers
  • Wi-Fi connected IoT devices and other Wi-Fi connected appliances
  • Media devices, such as STBs and OTT media players

Download and share our Factsheet on 5G, Energy Consumption and Climate Change here. This factsheet is hyperlinked to research studies and a great resource to raise awareness. 

News Reports

July 2020

Le Monde: The deployment of 5G in France is increasingly coming up against ecological concerns

Referenced Reports

Note: More studies on impacts to wildlife here. 

MTN Consulting, Operators facing power cost crunch, March 27, 2020

Fierce Wireless “5G base stations use a lot more energy than 4G base stations: MTN” April 3, 2020

Engels, Svenja, et al. “Anthropogenic electromagnetic noise disrupts magnetic compass orientation in a migratory bird.” Nature, 2014 

Thielens et al., “Exposure of Insects to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields from 2 to 120 GHz” Scientific Reports, 2018 

Waldmann-Selsam, C., et al. “Radiofrequency radiation injures trees around mobile phone base stations.” Science of the Total Environment, 2016 

The Shift Project, “Lean ICT: Towards Digital Sobriety: Report on the Environmental Impact of Information and Communication Technologies, February 2019

  • This comprehensive report by a think tank advocating the shift to a post-carbon economy documents the increased power consumption of the IOT and recommends solutions. 

Andrae & Edler of Huawei Technologies, On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030 Challenges 2015 

  • Estimates and analyses the global electricity usage that can be ascribed to Communication Technology  (CT) between 2010 and 2030. For the worst-case scenario, that CT electricity usage could contribute up to 23% of the globally released greenhouse gas emissions in 2030.  


  • “5G is widely expected to raise overall energy costs,”  based on an Vertiv’s industry analysis. 

Timothy Schoechle, “Re-Inventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks,” National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy, May 2018

  • “ Wireless networks and services, compared to wired access, are inherently more complex, more costly, more unstable (subject to frequent revision and “upgrades”), and more constrained in what they can deliver.”

Baliga et al. of the University of Melbourne, Energy Consumption in Wired and Wireless Access Networks,  IEEE Communications, June 2011

  • The energy consumption of the “wireless cloud” can exceed the energy consumption of data centres by 10X. 

Morley et al., Lancaster University, “Digitalisation, energy and data demand: The impact of Internet traffic on overall and peak electricity consumption” Energy Research and Social Science, 2018

  • “We argue that policies and interventions in this area should aim to do more than improve the energy efficiency of digital infrastructures: they can also focus on the growing demand for data.”
  • Mobile networks are more electricity intensive than fixed-line access networks yet mobile data traffic is growing faster.”

The Center for Energy Efficient Telecommunications at the University of Melbourne “The Power of Wireless Cloud”, 2013

  • This study found that wireless networking infrastructure worldwide accounts for significantly more power consumption than data centers.  

Shehabi et al., “United States Data Center Energy Usage Report”  Berkeley Laboratory, 2016 

  • Based on current trend estimates, U.S. data centers are projected to consume approximately 73 billion kWh in 2020.


The Verge Apple ditching chargers saves costs but not the planet


“I write this letter to you—and to everyone committed to reducing climate change and ecological harms. Without the Internet, I doubt that it would reach you.”Please find all these letters online at Dreaming of a Visible Internet Footprint #2 Test Your Internet Footprint IQ #3 Behind Our Screens: An invitation to learn a smartphone’s true costs #4 A geek researches 5G and discovers how he contributes to climate change #5 Proposing Cradle-to-Grave Evaluations for All Vehicles #6 Defining “carbon neutrality” before enacting new policies #7 Green 5G or red alert? #8 A brief history of electricity and telecommunications #9 How to revise our consuming love affair with electronics 


High Council for the Climate Report “Controlling the carbon impact of 5G” (2020)

German Environment Agency 2020 Report “Fibre optic video transmission is nearly 50 times more efficient than UMTS”



Sikdar, “A study of the environmental impact of wired and wireless local area network access,”

Anders S. G. Andrae Tomas Edler On Global Electricity Usage of Communication Technology: Trends to 2030 Challenges (2015) 


Energy Consumption in Wired and Wireless Access Networksby Jayant Baliga, University of Melbourne and National ICT Australia 

Digitalisation, energy and data demand: The impact of Internet traffic on overall and peak electricity consumption” Energy Research and Social Science, 

Emerging Trends in Electricity Consumption for Consumer ICT, by Peter Corcoran and Anders Andrae of Huawei.

“The Cloud Begins with Coal – Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, and Big Power. An overview of the electricity used by the global digital ecosystem.”Mark P. Mills, National Mining Association / American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, 2013

Lotfi Belkhir, Ahmed Elmeligi, Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations 

“The Power of Wireless Cloud”, The Center for Energy Efficient Telecommunications, 2013

United States Data Center Energy Usage Report”  Berkeley Laboratory, 2016

“Constantly Connected: B.C.’s obsession with personal electronics and how it’s shifting household electricity use”BC Hydro, 2018

Data Center Efficiency Assessment” National Resources Defense Council, 2014

The energy and greenhouse-gas implications of internet video streaming in the United States” Arman Shehabi, Ben Walker, and Eric Masanet, Environmental Research Letters 2014

Energy Efficiency Challenges of 5G Small Cell Networks. byGe, Xiaohu & Yang, Jing & Gharavi, Hamid & Sun, Yang. (2017) in IEEE Communications

Energy Efficiency Analysis of Small Cell Networksby  Chang Li, Jun Zhang, and K. B. Letaief, Fellow, IEEE Dept. of ECE, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

IEEE, The 5G Dilemma: More Base Stations, More Antennas—Less Energy?, October 3 2018

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