Wireless providers and telecom regulators that rolled out enhanced 5G mobile services this week faced pushback from the aviation industry over concerns that 5G technology could interfere with the radio signals used to help planes land in low-visibility conditions.
Although there are already 5G networks in operation around the United States, the 5G service released on Wednesday operates on the C-band spectrum frequency. The aviation industry is concerned that 5G service on the C-band frequency is too close to the band of frequencies used by aircraft radar altimeters, which measures the distance between an aircraft and the ground below it.
In early January, the Federal Aviation Administration listed 50 airports that — under the right conditions — could be impacted by this new 5G technology. Both AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay switching on their new 5G antennas near these airports for six months as part of a “5G buffer zone.” International airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates and Japan Airlines canceled or changed flights to the U.S. on Jan. 19 due to safety concerns related to the 5G expansion. Since then, most flights have resumed their normal schedules.
“It seems as though it’s been investigated so much that it’s kind of a solved problem, but there [are] still airlines that are scared of what’s going to happen,” tech writer Andy Ihnatko told Boston Public Radio on Friday. “This new band was actually enabled just two days ago, on Wednesday, after lots and lots of voluntary delays to make sure everything was safe. But there are still some airlines that are canceling flights, even to Logan and other airports.”
The aviation industry’s concerns over 5G C-band interference, Ihnatko believes, have more to do with outdated technology used by airlines and a lack of preparedness by the FAA. The telecom industry and the Federal Communications Commission both claim that the aviation industry and FAA have known for years about the 5G C-band frequency rollout plan, while aviation industry and FAA leaders argue that the FCC has ignored their concerns over the potential impact of 5G C-band on airlines.
“[The aviation industry is] saying, ‘hey, look, we’ve got these old crappy radios. Rather than upgrade them or update them so that they’re more selective [and] don’t look for frequencies outside of their range, can you just, like, delay [5G C-band] for more time so that we can basically age these radios out of existence or have more time to replace them?’” Ihnatko said. “At least that’s what it appears to be.”
“I looked at the technical stuff,” Ihnatko added. “I can’t see any other explanation for their worry.”