Wireless power could hold the key to achieving sustainable 5G-enabled smart cities


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This article was contributed by Hatem Zeine, Ossia founder, president and CTO

The Internet of Things (IoT), which is currently estimated to connect more than 10 billion devices is expected to grow rapidly in a 5G environment, CISCO estimates that by 2030 there will be more than 500 billion connected devices. One of the pillars of 5G coverage is its ability to increase the number of connected devices by orders of magnitude; the first time we have a network that can really connect any device in the world.

This scalability could enable a wide variety of new IoT applications, including massive, superfast networks that improve supply chains and accelerate manufacturing processes. But IoT data driving sustainable smart city applications is among the most anticipated as 5G coverage grows. When applied to smart city applications, the IoT’s 5G-enabled real-time data capabilities can balance power loads to lower costs, reduce unnecessary resource consumption, and improve security.

With mass connectivity being solved by 5G, there is a barrier that is not getting enough attention, hindering the deployment of IoT: power. Typical methods of supplying power via cable and battery are no match for the challenge of powering hundreds of billions of devices; humanity hasn’t built that many batteries in 200 years, and there’s no way we won’t be wiring so many. We will have to rethink how we power sensors and devices to meet the challenge and deliver on the promise of the 5G-enabled IoT. Fortunately, there is an alternative: wireless power.

Wires and conventional batteries cannot power the future

While it’s true that 5G is making it possible to scale IoT globally with hundreds of billions of new connected devices, conventional power delivery mechanisms put limits on what the IoT deployment on 5G can be. Wireless power — secure, reliable power that is automatically delivered to devices remotely — is the modern electrical infrastructure we need and can be deployed in tandem with 5G.

Smart cities will need metropolitan-sized networks to increase operational efficiency, relay critical data to the public and improve municipal services. For example, IoT sensors in devices can transmit information about air quality, temperatures, resource consumption, general health and activity levels in cities, allowing for rapid analysis to design and implement improvements, but all those sensors require power.

Secure wireless power already exists and could be widely deployed to integrate wireless power into buildings and infrastructure, along with 5G. This would reduce wiring and maintenance costs while providing wireless power that allows personal consumers to automatically charge smart home gadgets, mobile phones, tablets, gaming devices, etc. within the buildings as well.

Batteries, on the other hand, have enormous environmental costs: extracting the rare earth metals, manufacturing the batteries and ultimately disposing of them have wreaked havoc on our environment.

Mining for battery chemistry has negatively impacted ecosystems, population health and wildlife around the world. The energy cost of a battery is typically 5,000 times higher than the equivalent energy of a wall outlet. This comes from the cost of raw materials, manufacturing, shipping etc. Disposing of batteries is becoming an environmental nightmare as more and more devices are made with short lifespans, which means that the batteries, even rechargeable ones, are thrown away in large numbers worldwide.

Enabling a sustainable 5G future wirelessly

Sustainability is a core part of the smart city vision. 5G enables smart cities to leverage data and technology to increase efficiency, improve productivity and transform municipalities into sustainable hubs. Wireless power contributes to this goal by reducing the excessive waste of batteries and electronic devices caused by conventional power sources.

Durability, an independent research firm, estimated the impact wireless power could have on the IoT over the next five to 10 years. The company studied only three potential applications of IoT sensors that represent less than 1% of the total number of sensors expected to be deployed in the coming years. Even in that limited capacity, the positive environmental impact of switching to wireless power is expected to be significant:

Between 41,000-83,000 kilotons of waste avoided238,000-476,000 standard containers (40 feet) of battery waste eliminatedThe equivalent of 66,000-132,000 cars taken off the road468-936 tons of lithium avoided936M-1.87B liters of water saved (equivalent to 720 Olympic-sized swimming pools)306,500 -613,000 avoided emissions (tCO2e)

Again, these are the estimated effects of wireless power on a fraction of 1% of IoT devices. Extrapolate those numbers to wider deployment of wireless power and the incredible potential of wireless power to improve sustainability comes into play.

In a smart city context, a wireless power infrastructure could reduce the waste of conventional power while increasing the wider deployment of 5G network-connected sensors. These can boost smart transport, parking and traffic management initiatives while supporting innovation in other areas, including healthcare, education and public services.

That’s just the beginning. 5G is already inspiring new technology trends across the board. When 5G is combined with wireless power, the two technologies can open a floodgate of creativity and unlock innovations in various sectors, including smart vehicles, smart homes, virtual reality and many more.

5G is a game changer. Its scalability, speed and data capacity have the potential to boost IoT innovation. People are rightly excited about the possibilities, including the potential for smart cities. But before the promise of IoT can be fully realized, we must overcome the limitations of conventional IoT power delivery. Wireless power deployed with 5G could be the key to realizing that sustainable vision.

Hatem Zeine is the founder, president and CTO of Ossia.

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