Yale University industrial ecologist Thomas E. Graedel likes to point out in his lectures that when you hold a cellphone, you’re holding half the periodic table of elements in your hand. The number of minerals used in electronics has ballooned over the years, and now the industry finds itself highly dependent on some substances whose supply is more precarious than we’d like. Graedel was part of a U.S. government committee that looked at the ”criticality”—the combination of importance and supply risk—of a number of key minerals. Some of the most critical are found in cellphones. The ones to worry about, says Graedel, are difficult to find substitutes for and are produced only as by-products of something else, so their own supplies are constrained. Gallium and indium fall into that category. Graedel has also been examining the fact that a more affluent global population may cause even common minerals like copper to become scarce.

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The Cellular Industry’s Clash Over the Movement to Remake Networks

The wireless industry is divided on Open RAN’s goal to make network components interoperable

13 min read
Photo: George Frey/AFP/Getty Images

We've all been told that 5G wireless is going to deliver amazing capabilities and services. But it won't come cheap. When all is said and done, 5G will cost almost US $1 trillion to deploy over the next half decade. That enormous expense will be borne mostly by network operators, companies like AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and dozens more around the world that provide cellular service to their customers. Facing such an immense cost, these operators asked a very reasonable question: How can we make this cheaper and more flexible?

Their answer: Make it possible to mix and match network components from different companies, with the goal of fostering more competition and driving down prices. At the same time, they sparked a schism within the industry over how wireless networks should be built. Their opponents—and sometimes begrudging partners—are the handful of telecom-equipment vendors capable of providing the hardware the network operators have been buying and deploying for years.

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