This article quantifies the global carbon footprint of mobile communication systems, and discusses its ecological and economic implications. Using up-to-date data and life cycle assessment models, we predict an increase of CO2 equivalent emissions by a factor of three until 2020 compared to 2007, rising from about 86 to 235 Mton CO2e, suggesting a steeper increase than predicted in the well-known SMART2020 report. We provide a breakdown of the global carbon footprint, which reveals that production of mobile devices and global radio access network operation will remain the major contributors, accompanied by an increasing share of emissions due to data transfer in the backbone resulting from rising mobile traffic volumes. The energy bill due to network operation will gain increasing importance in cellular business models. Furthermore, technologies to reduce energy consumption are considered a key enabler for the spread of mobile communications in developing countries. Taking into account several scenarios of technological advancement and rollout, we analyze the overall energy consumption of global radio access networks and illustrate the saving potential of green communication technologies. We conclude that, conditioned on quick implementation and alongside other "classical" improvements of spectral efficiency, these technologies offer the potential to serve three orders of magnitude more traffic with the same overall energy consumption as today.
Albrecht J Fehske, Gerhard P Fettweis, Jens Malmodin, Gergely Biczók