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The 5G Revolution and What it Means for E-Waste

As 5G ramps up in the US, the coming tidal wave of 3G and 4G cell phones meant for disposition is going to drastically increase marking one of the largest technological changes the US has ever seen.

The US-led the world into the 4G network era in 2011. The result was nearly $100 billion added to the US annual GDP by 2016. The wireless industry was projected to contribute $350 billion in 2016 but instead realized a whopping $445 billion by the end of the year. The number of wireless-related jobs in the US increased by 84% between 2011 and 2014. US 4G leadership brought in around $125 billion in revenue to American companies 1. This revenue could easily have gone somewhere else had the US not led the 4G revolution. Now that 5G wireless technology is around the corner, it is no wonder that countries around the globe are competing furiously to become the new leaders in the upcoming wireless revolution.

What is the expected impact of 5G?

By some estimates, 5G wireless networks could deliver data at nearly 10 gigabits per second, compared to current 4G networks which peak at about 100 megabits per second 2. This means 5G will be 100 times faster than 4G. 5G is also expected to have a much lower latency. This means technology could work in fundamentally different ways. Imagine a VR (virtual reality) headset that today needs to be connected to a PC via a USB cable because of the complex computations that need to be performed to make the technology work. In a 5G network, this headset could become untethered with the same computations happening in the cloud. Data could move between the headset and the powerful servers running the computations in the cloud at low latency, possibly enabling new ways in which to use these technologies.

It is widely expected that if the US is able to win the 5G race, the impact on the economy will be comparable to that of 4G in the yesteryears.

The infrastructure change required to enable 5G

While some 5G-enabled devices are already on the market, most current cell phones will not be able to access the 5G network. You will still be able to use these devices on their old networks. But new 5G-enabled phones will be needed to access the 5G network.

5G network infrastructure will also work differently. The 5G network uses smaller cell towers with a shorter range. These cells will need to dispersed across cities and towns in greater density to allow consistent coverage. These small cells will be placed inconspicuously on top of buildings, light poles, etc. As you can imagine, telecom companies will need to install millions of these new towers across cities and towns. Sparsely populated rural areas might not get 5G coverage at all 3.

The ever-growing tidal wave of E-waste

The underlying change in wireless infrastructure will result in more phones, tablets and other cellular devices being discarded than ever before. The upgrades to cell phone towers and other related gear will also add to the tremendous growth of cellular e-waste in the US. This has big environmental ramifications.

Under 20 states in the US have landfill disposal bans on electronic items which include mobility products such as cell phones and tablets. These bans make it illegal to dispose of cell phones, tablets, and other electronics in landfills due to their toxicity. This creates an ever-growing safety concern regarding e-waste contamination in landfills which can leak in drinking water.

With only about 15% of the overall electronics are responsibly recycled in the US, this creates a major problem for landfills. Proper education to both businesses and consumers is essential to get from 15% to 100% of properly recycled electronics. Let’s also consider that since 2007, Apple4 has sold over 2.2 billion units around the world. According to, the average lifespan of an iPhone is now just 2 years 5. The study also found that the carbon impact of Information & Communication Industry (ICT) items including cell phones, computers, servers, etc., will go from 1% of the overall carbon footprint in 2007 to 14% by 2040. The reason being is that cell phones are extremely complicated and use rare materials for components.

The cost to mine material for cell phones vs the cost to harvest components from outdated devices is significant. In fact, they determined that it costs 13 times more to mine material than to simply harvest the same components from retired hardware 7.

As more and more people become tech-savvy and want the latest and greatest technology, the 3G/4G phones will make themselves obsolete in the US at rapid pace due to American’s insatiable appetite for having the best technology. Not to be overlooked, businesses will also want their employees to have the fastest mobile network in the world to increase productivity time.

Finding the right ITAD & Electronics Recycling Solutions provider.

What does the 5G revolution mean for your enterprise organization? Lots of mobility turnover will be taking place over the course of the next year as many corporation’s update to the latest 5G technology. When looking for a new ITAD provider, consider the following solutions to ensure proper data destruction and recycling of retired cell phones and tablets.

-         Remarketing

-         Redeployment

-         Asset Registration & Serialization

-         White-Glove Services

-         Data Erasure & Physical Destruction

-         Component Harvesting & Electronics Recycling

Finding an ITAD provider that can conduct all the solutions above will ensure brand protection and maximize revenue on your retired mobility products.

As for remarketing and resale of retired 3G/4G phones, there are dozens of underdeveloped countries around the world that will still be on the 3G/4G networks. Having a dedicated ITAD provider with B2B & B2C sales channels to these countries will increase revenue on the resale of your mobility products. Your ITAD provider should constantly be monitoring global hardware technology markets and negotiating upwards for increased revenue.

Where can tested working cell phones be remarketed?

DeviceAtlas 6 conducted a worldwide study on the most popular smartphones in 2019 and found that the iPhone 7 is the most widely used cell phone on the market today. In the US, they found that iPhones for hold the Top 8 spots ranging from the iPhone 6s to the iPhone XS MAX. in ninth is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and tenth is the Samsung Galaxy S9. In all, iPhones take 10 of the top 12 spots in the most used cell phone category. The iPhone 7 is the most used mobile phone of all in the US with 7.85% market share. The Samsung Galaxy S8 has 2.98% market share in the ninth position.



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