High speed/high throughput/low latency: Save the world
Perhaps one of the most exciting, yet illusive, social impact technology use cases is the autonomous vehicle that could save thousands of lives29 by using location, health, vehicle, weather, similar data, 5G, the edge, and the cloud to create safer and smarter experiences. Yes, the long-term potential is exciting. The short-term promise, however, is limited, and technology strategies for social good could be better served by focusing on mobility infrastructure more broadly. Deloitte’s Future of Mobility research has estimated that data traffic associated with mobility and transportation could grow to 9.4 exabytes every month by 2030,30 likely making the cloud a critical component to manage this type of infrastructure.
Urban mobility and transportation infrastructure powered by a network of the cloud, IoT, the edge, and wireless/wireline technologies can help across safety, emissions, congestion, convenience, access, and equity.31 To begin to imagine the potential for carbon reduction, for example, look at what just one US city was able to accomplish by implementing “smart” traffic signals. Not only did commuter travel time reduce, but the vehicle idle time dropped by more than one-third.32 The reduced idle time is significant, given that the transportation industry is the greatest contributor to carbon emissions at 28% with light-duty vehicles (59%) and medium- and heavy-duty trucks (23%) as the biggest contributors.33 Another city implemented a cloud-based command center to analyze data and insights across mobility, construction waste, and public safety across city resources used by 1.2 million tourists annually. It reduced energy cost by 20% and operational costs by 40%. Additionally, it saved 900,000 euros (roughly US$1 million) annually for waste management and 10%–27% in terms of mobility through an electrical vehicle-charging network across bikes, kiosks, buses, etc.34
These technologies have the potential to take mobility initiatives related to sustainability and public safety to the next level. Imagine being able to:
- Create a virtual twin for a city to measure and manage adverse environmental impacts before they happen
- Simulate real-time “gaming” scenarios to advance peacekeeping initiatives
- Run risk scenarios related to catastrophic events, including everything from a major oil spill to a nuclear reactor malfunction
- Create safer and greener traffic management systems with connected wearables, cars, and surrounding infrastructures that save lives and reduce carbon emissions
Making an impact: The cloud-carbon equation
In deciding technology-for-social-impact strategies that tap into the cloud, one consideration should be the cloud’s carbon footprint. Data centers are massive consumers of electricity—thought to currently account for 2% of total global consumption with the potential to rise to 8% by 2030.35 The technology, media, and telecom sector is facing pressure on energy efficiency and sustainability; 72% of organizations are starting to feel the pressure to demonstrate how their energy-management measures address climate-related risks, and 74% have raised their reduction targets.36
When moving to the cloud, aim for a zero-sum game that reduces the organization’s existing data center footprint. Shared cloud hardware can achieve 80%–90% improvement in energy consumption,37 raising 5%–15% hardware utilization in a physical data center to up to 80%–100% utilization in the cloud.38 This is possible when all of the hyperscalers are investing in their carbon neutral/negative strategies related to their cloud-enabled data centers and computing infrastructure. These strategies include a focus on data center energy efficiency, clean energy credits, use of recycled plastics, and more.39 For example, one cloud provider was able to reduce energy use by 40% (15% overall energy use) by using artificial intelligence to predict computational load and better manage data center cooling and performance optimization.40
The 5G/cloud potential: Beyond broadband
5G brings with it the promise of peak data speed, ultra low-latency, improved reliability, greater network capacity, high-definition mobile video streaming, distributed information networks, and more.41 When combined with cloud, edge, and other technologies, it can provide distinct opportunities to tap into a powerful infrastructure for social good. At the heart of many of these challenges is reliable wireline and wireless internet access that is hampering, for example, the nearly 11 million people (approximately 3.3% of the US population) who live in rural and “less urban” areas42 in broadband dead zones.43 These pressing social challenges require architects44 to innovate in the real world in areas like virtual learning and work, precision agriculture, and mobility. To manage the access challenge, the US government has had several initiatives focused on rural broadband and wireless connectivity including a US$9 billion 5G fund for rural connectivity,45 a US$137 million investment to bring high-speed internet to homes and businesses over the next decade,46 and a $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Nonetheless, new technology innovations provide a range of opportunities to find the right solution for a given scenario.
The 5G and cloud combination in particular is an exciting one for its ability to deliver:
- Instant access—broader connectivity optionality for network access and dynamic, spectrum sharing on low bandwidth or via mmWave to power cloud applications.
- Distributed data—infrastructure that takes advantage of unfettered real-time data streaming powered by 5G, edge, and cloud technologies that increases the ability to offload data from endpoint devices (IoT, etc.) to the cloud for greater computing power and the spatial web’s47 promise.
- High speed/high throughput—faster data streaming and faster computing power enabling advanced ultra low-latency use cases.