As 5G ramps up in the U.S., the coming tidal wave of 3G and 4G cell phones meant for disposal is going to drastically increase, marking one of the largest technological changes the U.S. has ever seen.
By Arun Karottu and Alex Cummings

The U.S. led the world into the 4G network era in 2011. The result was nearly $100 billion added to the U.S. 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 U.S. increased by 84 percent between 2011 and 2014. U.S. 4G leadership brought in around $125 billion in revenue to American companies.1 This revenue could easily have gone somewhere else had the U.S. 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.

SMR’s California mobility/cell phone processing line inside the secure cage. Each station is responsible for testing, data sanitization, and light refurbishment before the IT asset is remarketed/resold via B2B sales channels.

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 U.S. 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 U.S. This has big environmental ramifications.

Under 20 states in the U.S. have landfill disposal bans on electronic items including 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 into drinking water.

Components of a mobile phone that can be remarketed/resold/redistributed to further enhance the lifecycle of another phone.

With only about 15 percent of the overall electronics responsibly recycled in the U.S., this creates a major problem for landfills. Proper education to both businesses and consumers is essential to get from 15 percent to 100 percent of properly recycled electronics. Let’s also consider that since 2007, Apple4 has sold more than 2.2 billion units around the world. According to, the average lifespan of an iPhone is now just two 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 percent of the overall carbon footprint in 2007 to 14 percent by 2040. The reason being is that cell phones are extremely complicated and use rare materials for components.

SMR drill press used to removing chipsets and drilling NAND into the board of a cell phone to ensure data destruction.

The cost to mine material for cell phones versus 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.6

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 U.S. 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 and 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 and Serialization
• White-Glove Services
• Data Erasure and Physical Destruction
• Component Harvesting and 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 and 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.

SMR cell phone station used for testing, wiping and light refurbishment.

Where Can Tested Working Cell Phones Be Remarketed?
DeviceAtlas7 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 U.S., they found that iPhones hold the top eight spots ranging from the iPhone 6s to the iPhone XS MAX, in ninth is the Samsung Galaxy S8 and 10th 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 percent market share. The Samsung Galaxy S8 has 2.98 percent market share in the ninth position.

With America’s insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest technology, millions of 3G/4G mobile phones will be turned in as American’s upgrade to the new 5G technology. Those 3G/4G complete testing working cell phones can be lightly refurbished and remarketed/resold to rural parts of the U.S. and international countries without 5G access as they are still widely used around the world. With iPhone 7’s still the most used mobile phone on the market today, the need for quality components is still high around the globe to further the lifecycle of those phones.

The 5G revolution may appear to be the death of the 3G/4G phones but in actuality, it’s the beginning of global redistribution for these mobile phones and their components, that will greatly help bridge the technology gap around the world. In all, if ITAD and electronics recycling companies position themselves correctly, they can ride the 5G tidal wave and truly make a difference with global remarketing and component harvesting for years to come. | WA

Alex Cummings is a Marketing Specialist, who creates, implements and executes the global marketing and public relations strategy for SMR Worldwide (formerly Smart Metals Recycling) headquartered in Statesville, NC with four additional locations in the U.S. Alex executes SMR’s mission on their website, social media, market research, press releases, e-mail campaigns, partnerships, blogs, sales presentations, along with graphic design and content management. He spent the last 15 years in various client services and marketing roles with companies, such as World Racing Group, World of Outlaws, Roush Yates Engines and SRI Performance before finding his purpose in the ITAD and Electronics Recycling Industry.

Arun Karottu is the co-founder and CTO of SMR Worldwide. Arun co-founded the company as a dorm-room startup while he was a student at Duke University in 2014. He leads the development of the company’s proprietary SmartERP software system. This one-of-a-kind software has helped SMR streamline its operations and provide its customers with real-time data, insights, and transparency into the electronics disposition process like never before. This technology has enabled SMR’s meteoric rise to one of the leading ITAD and electronics recycling companies in the U.S.

SMR Worldwide’s mission is “Transforming yesterday’s technology into the supply chain of tomorrow” as they become the world’s most disruptive vision for last-mile IT asset management. SMR partners with the world’s leading manufacturers, highest volume IT distributors and most privacy-obsessed enterprises. Their focus is to deliver the best turnkey ITAD programs from end-to-end while protecting clients’ brand and reputation while minimizing environmental impacts. In the summer of 2019, SMR was placed on the Inc. 5000 list at #1563 in just its 5th year of operation. They are creating new solutions all the time, adding not only new service locations, but also new service capabilities.

For more information, call (704) 873-8878, e-mail at [email protected] or visit


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