How Tech Works

Smartphone Data Has a Larger Carbon Footprint Than You Might Think

The choice of your mobile phone provider matters.

This blog post was originally published in March 2019 and updated in May 2024.

As the experts on the insides of devices, we talk a lot about how repair and repair-friendly hardware are key in slowing down the growing e-waste problem. While the bulk of emissions are emitted in the manufacturing and delivery of a smartphone, a smartphone’s usage-related impact should not be neglected. The German start-up and mobile service provider WEtell is tackling that challenge head-on.

In terms of energy consumption, the actual power required to charge smartphones is small. But the infrastructure required to support their usage is voracious: Miles away from the tiny SIM cards in each of our phones, servers run non-stop to enable a monthly 130 billion gigabytes of global mobile data traffic. Constant air-conditioning keeps the servers cool. On top of this comes the operation of the radio masts. This is the framework required to keep our broadband network running 24/7.

Smartphone data sim card

The carbon footprint of mobile data will continue to rise, as mobile data traffic is predicted to double in the next three years. And that’s even without considering the impact of AI on computing. To make our dependence on smartphones more sustainable, we’ll have to think beyond their hardware—by choosing a sustainable mobile provider.

WEtell is leading that charge. The mobile communications provider avoids CO2 emissions wherever possible. Where this is not within its control, namely in the network infrastructure, it offsets the unavoidable emissions by investing in carbon sinks with biochar. As offsetting alone is not a solution for WEtell, the company also invests in the expansion of renewable energy in Germany. In this way, WEtell not only operates sustainably, but also regeneratively.

In addition to running on sustainable energy, WEtell is committed to keeping your data safe and being completely transparent in their contracts. They generate revenue exclusively through the sale of mobile tariffs—not your data.

They are also going a different way when it comes to bundling their plans with a phone. Instead of wooing customers with the latest flagship models, they propose to just use the phone you already have and, in case that’s not desired, to rent a smartphone or get a more sustainable option like a Fairphone, SHIFTphone or a refurbished device.

As a responsibly owned company, WEtell is independent of external interests or decision-makers such as investors. This allows the company to continue to pursue its sustainable ideals in the long term.

In Germany, where the energy consumption of mobile communications networks is estimated to triple between 2019 and 2030, WEtell’s promise is much needed. They’re offering an innovative solution to the environmental costs of mobile data, and we’re excited to share the same mission: making the usage of smartphones more sustainable.