Last year, several flights to the US were temporarily cancelled over fears of possible spectrum interference with crucial aircraft navigation systems. Civil Aircraft Radio Altimeters rely on the 4.2GHz -4.4GHz band. The electromagnetic spectrum that 5G occupies ranges upto 4.7GHz, which interferes with the operation of Civil Aircraft Radio Altimeters. The Radio Altimeters are crucial for helicopters flying at low altitudes and marking landings in poor visibility. The US Federal Aviation Administration has expressed its concern over the same.
Why this is a serious issue in the US?
Have you ever wondered why the US airspace is being called the most complex in the world?
In the US, radio spectrum is both congested and a highly contested estate. While several industries and individuals lobby hard to secure their portion, the spectrum put aside for aircraft operations sits very close to the one assigned for 5G operations in the US.
5G – The fifth generation of mobile phone technology depends on phone masts to access the internet and phone network via radio waves. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has authorised the installation of phone masts near airports. This is a huge security risk in the safe landing of aircrafts in poor weather conditions.
Like the US, UK and the European Union have comparable bands at a different portion of the spectrum. In the US, the FCC has set aside a portion of the spectrum close to the lower band of 5G. Meanwhile, the UK limited it to 4 GHz and the lower band in the European union ends at 3.8 GHz.
How did the US Government address this issue?
US president Joe Biden put out a statement on 18th of January, 2022 called the “Statement by US President Joe Biden on 5G Agreement”. Previously, the FAA had expressed its concern over the spectrum interference to Verizon and AT&T. US president Joe Biden thanked Verizon and AT&T for agreeing to delay 5G deployment around key airports. Verizon and AT&T will continue to work with the Department of Transportation on safe 5G deployment at these locations.
5G is already here and there is no turning back for the multinational corporations that invested billions on top of it. How can the US airspace stay untouched from 5G interference?
A study has been conducted by the Electronic Navigation Research Institute, National Institute of Maritime, Port and Aviation Technology, Japan on 5G interference with Radio Altimeters. Based on the findings submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), there needs to be at least 60MHz of guard band to avoid interference with Radio Altimeters. The study also suggests that the high-power 5G base station should be planted at least 200meters away from the approach path of an aircraft.
What’s next for the telecoms and airlines in the US?
Verizon and AT&T run two of the largest cellular networks in the US. Even though their 5G turn on date has been delayed twice due to safety concerns, AT&T has again decided to postpone the date till they have a clear picture.
Meanwhile, the FAA has allowed 45 percent of commercial planes including the Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 in poor weather conditions where there are chances of 5G interference. On the contrary, the FAA has issued 1450 official notices to warn pilots about the new 5G towers. Several airlines have written to the US government to warn that these restrictions could lead to countless flight cancellations. In any nation, that will lead to a severe economic crisis.