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Concerns around 5G interference with flight operations

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    3rd Dec, 2022

Context

The setting up of 5G airwave infrastructure has raised concerns about safe airline operations due to interference that these signals could cause.

Concerns around 5G interference with flight operations

  • Likely interference of 5 G C-Band spectrums with aircraft radio altimeters. These altimeters as well as a part of the 5G telecom services operate in the mid-C-Band frequency range.
    • A radio altimeter is an instrument that provides direct height-above-terrain information to various aircraft systems. For all airborne vehicles, an aircraft, spacecraft, or even a missile- an altimeter is crucial to gauge the altitude and the distance covered

    • For aircraft operations, the use of altimeters in 5G C-Band ensures highly precise measurements of the plane’s altitude.
  • The C-Band presents a sweet spot for rolling out 5G services, ensuring coverage as well as high bandwidth, resulting in faster internet speeds.
    • The concern is that the signal emitted by the 5G’s C-Band will interfere with the signals the altimeter receives about the plane’s altitude, which could impact operations during low-visibility landings or landings in bad weather.

What is C-Band?

  • C-Band is a portion of the airwave spectrum and is considered the most popular for 5G connectivity. It is wave frequency ranges from about 3.3 to 4.2GHz.
    • In the US, the 5G C-Band debate is mostly around the 3.7-3.98 GHz range.
  • C-Band is deemed a great fit for 5G because it offers a wide spectrum range that can be used for a faster connection than its predecessor 4G.

Department of Telecommunications (DoT) operational guidelines:

  • Setting up 5G establishments a bit further away from airports.
  • Lowering the power of 5G signals.
  • Airline companies will be required to upgrade altimeters.

Has this been an issue globally?

  • The deployment of 5G by AT&T and Verizon, in the US, has triggered concern among airlines as the telecom companies are very close to the frequencies used by on-board instruments such as radar altimeters, which operate in the 4.2-4.4 GHz range.
  • US aviation authorities have reported about 85 cases of 5G waves impacting flight operations.
    • Air India had to cancel some of its flights to the US.
  • This has resulted in a delay in the rollout of 5G services in the C-Band near airports.

Concerns from other industries:

  • The guard band between the 5G telecom and broadcast services narrowing sharply.
  • Broadcasters have cited multiple incidents of “disruptions” amid concerns over possible interference.
  • There is a possibility of potential outages once full-scale 5G services are launched across the country.
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