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How telecoms can help the U.N. meet sustainable development goals

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Moon Light PhotoStudio / Shutterstock)

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) have become an integral part of government, business and local authority strategies, as we morph into a society that looks to live more sustainably and consciously. As technology becomes ever more pervasive in industry and our daily lives, the telecoms industry (and 5G specifically) has an ever-growing key role to play in achieving these Sustainable Development Goals.

Beyond industry, innovation and infrastructure, investment in, and penetration of, digital infrastructure has the ability to improve access to meaningful work, lead to responsible production and consumption, as well as tackling climate action and creating long-term change.

Merging sustainability and telecoms 

At the heart of “Agenda 2030” are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which clearly define the world we want, applying to all nations and leaving no one behind. The Global Goals are the result of a process that has been more inclusive than ever, with Governments involving business, civil society and citizens from the outset. We are all in agreement on where the world needs to go.

Fulfilling these ambitions will take an unprecedented effort by all sectors in society — and businesses play a very important role in this process. No matter how large or small, and regardless of their industry, all companies can contribute to the SDGs. While the scale and scope of the global goals is unprecedented, the fundamental ways that business can contribute remain unchanged.

Sustainable development is especially relevant within the TMT (Telecommunications, Media and Technology) sector, given the sector’s key role in driving the advancements in science, technology and innovation that have been consistently recognized by the UN and other groups as a critical enabler for achieving the SDGs.

New and technology-driven approaches are required if we want to achieve key targets, placing TMT organizations at the cutting edge, and providing them with the opportunity, and obligation, to lead on development in this area. Many organizations already have been and will continue to be at the forefront of delivering on the SDGs.

Enabling smart cities

The rise of telecommunication has changed how we interact by enabling global connectivity at the touch of a button. Many activities and practices that once required face-to-face communication can now be done virtually through various telecom channels; and mobile networks provide opportunities across the world. The advancement of mobile network technologies and the ability to transfer data seamlessly across the world makes it possible for meetings, healthcare appointments and even surgery to be done remotely, eliminating the need to use up unnecessary resources and inefficient methods that are harmful to the environment.

The even more transformational possibilities 5G can bring demonstrate the impact the telecoms industry has in helping achieve the SDG’s; from increasing efficiency and productivity at traffic junctions, to providing remote care, to optimizing manufacturing processes, to increasing emergency response times, to providing socio-economically poorer communities a chance to be digitally included. The list goes on…

5G will be critical because it will provide superfast broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication, massive machine-type communications, high reliability/availability and efficient energy usage.

Delivering a healthier and more sustainable world 

The excitement that 5G brings is backed up by research provided from testbed & trials focused on applications that are being developed to help critical services. With 5G there is much greater reliability in networks and it is much faster for critical information to be sent. According to Statistics from the Ericsson Mobility Report, the possibility for 5G to make its mark on sustainability agendas is immense.

A 10 percent increase in mobile broadband adoption means a 0.8 percent increase in a nation’s gross domestic product, according to research conducted by Ericsson with London’s Imperial College. On top of this, Goal 9 on Industry and Innovation can be met by leveling out inequalities and providing broadband to the next 50 percent of the population. The 5.9 million mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide will also surpass 8 billion by 2024. This will enable social and economic inclusion and help meet societal needs in education, health, e-government and entrepreneurship.

As well as making factories safer, energy-efficient and cost-effective, 5G will have a huge impact on climate action by digitizing a range of services and industries, to help reduce greenhouse and gas emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030.

Will digital infrastructure determine the success of SDGs? 

As we look ahead, we are confident that the telecoms industry will continue to play a critical role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and is a key enabler for many solutions to be successful. As showcased in this article, Mobile network technologies starting with 3G, 4G and now 5G all have a role to play in enabling access to technologies and applications across the world.

According to a McKinsey report, by 2025, cities that deploy smart-mobility applications have the potential to cut commuting times by 15 to 20 percent on average. ​​ In a dense city with extensive transit, smart technologies could save the average commuter almost 15 minutes a day. In a developing city with more grueling commutes, the improvement might be 20 to 30 minutes every day.

The more widespread wireless infrastructure and mobile coverage is, the more likely it is that entrepreneurs will be able to innovate and create applications that can impact society in a positive way. Investing in digital infrastructure should be a global priority; telecoms should join other utility industries such as energy & water as an essential infrastructure requirement. Better access to digital infrastructure both physical and virtual will allow societies and communities to make the potential economic, environmental & societal benefits a reality; and allow people to utilize technology and applications more impactfully and productively.

Having seen the success of the UK5G Testbed & Trials and other Smart City examples across the world - we are confident in saying that now is the time for the Telecoms industry to innovate in order to meet the global connectivity demands. Access to connectivity requires the fundamental infrastructures to be put in place, so ultimately investment in digital infrastructure will determine the success of many of the SDG’s. All of us in the Telecoms industry play an important role in innovating and providing new models to make digital infrastructure more affordable, accessible, discoverable & deployable.

Maria Lema, co-founder, Weaver Labs

Maria Lema is co-founder of Weaver Labs, the Web3 company democratizing access to telecoms infrastructure with blockchain. The company digitizes public and private assets to build open and decentralized networks.