Imbroglio in the United States on 5G Frequency Band Interference with Airplanes

American airlines are sounding the alarm about using the C-band frequency spectrum to implement 5G networks. The operation of this frequency band, which should begin on January 5, will have consequences for certain communication devices on board the aircraft.

The major airlines in the United States assured on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 that this could interrupt thousands of daily flights and cost passengers $ 1.59 billion per year in delays. US telecommunications operators, for their part, have spent more than $ 80 billion to acquire the rights to these new frequencies.

A first shift

After initial alerts, AT&T and Verizon agreed last November to postpone the start of using this C-band to early January, but airlines’ concerns have not been allayed. Aviation actors and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have expressed concern about possible interference between these new 5G networks and electronic devices on board aircraft, such as radio altimeters, for example.

“Radio altimeters cannot be used to perform their intended function if they experience interference from broadband wireless operations in the 3.7-3.98 GHz frequency band (5G C-band),” the FAA writes. The government agency was forced to issue new airworthiness directives on December 7, warning that 5G spectrum interference could lead to flight diversions. But the agency has not quantified the effect of these new rules.

345,000 passenger flights affected

However, these measures do not seem to reassure the airlines. Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, asked after a US Senate Commerce Committee hearing that AT&T and Verizon delay this rollout again. It assures that otherwise it could lead to delay, divert or cancel around 4% of daily flights and affect hundreds of thousands of passengers, Reuters reports.

“On January 5, unless something changes, we won’t be able to use radio altimeters at about 40 of the largest airports in the country,” Scott Kirby said. “It is a certainty. It is not a debate.” This means, according to the CEO of United Airlines, that at major US airports a visual approach will only be possible in severe weather, cloud cover or fog.

The Airlines for America (A4A), which groups together many US airlines, estimates that the new rules issued by the FAA would have affected nearly 345,000 passenger flights, or 32 million people, had they been implemented beforehand. Pandemic in 2019. have affected 5,400 cargo flights and have caused delays and cancellations that represent $ 1.59 billion per year for passengers.

Safety measures

By agreeing to postpone the commercial launch of this new 5G network until January 5, AT&T and Verizon also agreed to take precautionary measures for 6 months to limit interference. The goal is also to give the FAA time to conduct additional analysis and reach an agreement with its telecommunications counterpart, the FCC. “I am confident in the mitigation measures proposed by the wireless industry,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, president of the FCC, at a news conference reported by Bloomberg. “I am also confident that we will find solutions to implement 5G services quickly and safely.”

In France, the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) has recommended the delimitation of a safety zone near the runways, in which the number and power of transmitters should be reduced. But the installation of antennas near airports has been validated.

This is not the first time that the allocation of frequency bands for the deployment of 5G raises doubts. Towards the first deployments, meteorologists raised the alarm: the frequencies used by the new mobile phone standard, very close to those of its satellites, could reduce the reliability of the forecasts. In France, steps were quickly taken to prevent these riots, but the United States was singled out.

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