Evaluating the energy consumption of mobile data transfer—from technology development to consumer behaviour and life cycle thinking

Mobile data consumption in Finland is among the highest in the world. The increase in mobile data usage has been rapid and continual future growth is foreseen. Simultaneously,
consumer behaviour is changing. While new end-user devices are more and more energy-efficient and energy consumption per transferred gigabyte has significantly decreased, people spend more time and consume more data via their mobile devices than ever before. Does the increased usage
outweigh the energy savings that have been achieved? What options are available for tackling increasing energy demand? And should consumers have a role to play in this discussion? This paper examines the current and future trends that results from the energy consumption of mobile data transfer and mobile networks in Finland. The findings presented in this paper are based on a
top-down energy intensity estimate and publicly available data, which was employed to construct an illustrative trend (kWh/gigabyte) for the energy consumption of transmitted mobile data for the years 2010–2017. In addition, energy consumption related to mobile data transfer is discussed from a life cycle perspective, considering both direct and indirect energy use. Finally, the challenges in conducting such assessments are examined.

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