Imagine a city so densely populated that cellular networks regularly slow to a crawl, buckling under the sheer weight of an endlessly surging subscriber base. Picture a skyline so expansive that its monolithic skyscrapers can no longer be serviced effectively without sprawling, real-time sensor grids and a multitude of connected technology — smart parking meters, autonomous vehicles, dynamic lighting systems and maintenance drones, all thirsty for connectivity. As bandwidth dries up and the invisible technological backbone we all take for granted begins to fray, what would be the first thing that you miss?

Before long, this alarming hypothetical may very well become a real-world concern. Based on current rates of urbanization, Ernst & Young projects that two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities by 2050. Over the next 40 years, urban centers will see an astonishing 1 million new residents arriving each week. This trend is compounded by the effects of climate change: Even as urban populations swell, cities must find ways to reduce resource consumption and mitigate carbon emissions. At the same time, changing rain patterns are redefining urban stormwater management. In New York City this summer, torrential downpours have frequently overwhelmed drains, roads and transit systems. Conversely, cities in Sweden are experiencing one of the driest seasons in decades. As precipitation seems to continue to come down in shorter, more concentrated bursts, droughts and flooding are becoming increasing concerns.

Real-time telemetry is arguably the most powerful tool a city has to respond to these challenges, but a scalable sensor network demands a stronger, more reliable platform for cellular connectivity. That’s where 5G comes in. Building in tandem with the world’s leading telecoms, municipalities and a range of organizations in both the public and private sphere, Ericsson’s technology is aimed at addressing the needs of current and future users by providing a vastly more robust cellular network. 5G offers wireless speeds comparable to today’s wired broadband, while delivering better energy efficiency than modern 4G networks.

This is about far more than powering smartphones. Owing to the rise of the IoT (Internet of Things), the emergence of autonomous vehicles and the need for smarter, more efficient buildings, the number of endpoints in metropolitan areas is set to grow exponentially, from millions to billions of connected devices. IoT sensors will monitor everything from air quality, to energy use, to traffic patterns. This technology will enable everything from smart parking, to crowd management, to emergency response. Since many of these devices will be embedded in difficult to reach, often dangerous locations, wireless connectivity will be key in enabling flexible design and on-the-fly reconfiguration.

Meanwhile, systems like driverless cars and maintenance drones will increasingly depend on real-time telemetry to function. 5G is more than the cellular network that provides connectivity to this plethora of technology; it is the connective fabric tying it all together, allowing operators to mine vast datasets for actionable insights that will be crucial in achieving sustainable urban growth.

“Today, a number of companies and cities are deploying existing technology solutions that help with resource management and monitoring. And tomorrow, intelligent devices including sensors and other connected devices coupled with flexible network capability, will enable never before seen data analytics that will result in social and economic benefits including things like traffic alleviation, smart building design and energy management—all informed using advanced intelligent networking capability,” reads a Brookings Institution report on sustainability and 5G.

As we continue toward a more urbanized world and the impacts of climate change grow progressively dire, the need for 5G becomes truly paramount.

“With the emerging 5G network and the internet of things, it is possible to deploy technology in ways that protect the environment and promote long-term sustainability. These new technology innovations have the potential to become an integral part of and accelerate global efforts to address the challenges of sustainability,” the report continues. “With 5G, governments, industry, communities, and individuals will have the connectivity, capability and agility to meet many of the challenges the world faces as we work towards ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its resources.”