5G and airlines: why the FAA is worried about mobile phones again

Your 5G phone may soon start performing just like the amazingly fast 5G phone you’ve heard of in commercials. January 19 Verizon and AT&T plan to include new cellular frequencies that will increase the number of connections for tens of millions of phones across the United States. Once these ethers are activated, you can download a song to your phone in just a few seconds

This is made possible by the addition of a C-band frequency, which can not only increase speed but also expand 5G coverage. This is great news for anyone who owns or plans to buy one of these devices that will more than 10 times faster than their 4G predecessors after 5G networks are fully operational. But this update hinges on a familiar but unexpected critic of cellular technology: the Federal Aviation Administration.

What does 5G have to do with airplanes? Not many, say wireless carriers hoping to implement the technology. But the FAA says it is concerned that the C-band may interfere with some radio altimeters, aircraft safety tools that rely on nearby radio waves. The agency is so concerned that it is fighting for postpone 5G rollout and prepared a guide that can cause canceled flights from airports operating near certain 5G antennas, which means anyone who flies or has one of these devices could be affected.

It’s unclear if 5G is an issue for these altimeters. After all, 5G itself is not entirely new. 5G smartphones were on market since 2019, and last year, nearly 90 million of these devices were only shipped to the USA. Wireless carriers pledge 5G isn’t easy higher speeds but also lower latency, which will do actions like streaming media and video calls achievable without any delay.

But to make 5G a reality, wireless companies spent over $ 81 billion buy the rights to use certain parts of the radio spectrum – in particular, C-band frequencies between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz… Wireless service providers use the frequency band to transmit data between mobile phones and transmission stations, such as telephone towers, that connect these devices to the Internet. Each frequency band has its own advantages and disadvantages.

C-band is considered sweet spot in the spectrum and is an important part of wireless companies’ 5G ambitions. 5G phones can already connect to the so-called millimeter spectrum, which operates at a very high frequency. That millimeter wave frequency band supports very high speeds and can transfer a lot of data, but not very far. 5G phones can also connect to the low frequency spectrum, which operates at a much lower frequency. The low frequency range can cover large areas, but can only support a small amount of data, making it slower. The C-band is essentially an intermediate link between the low-frequency range and the millimeter-wave range, so it covers a large area at fairly high speeds. When they are on, these frequencies should be enough to finally see the real difference between 5G and 4G in your daily life

Flight regulators are very nervous about this C-band update because of how it might affect radio altimeters of some aircraft… This device transmits radio waves from the plane to the ground to help measure the altitude of the plane. Altimeters are especially useful in cloudy day or in mountainous terrainwhen pilots cannot see where they are landing. The problem is that altimeters rely on portions of the spectrum that are adjacent to the radio waves used in the C-band. In a nightmare scenario, the FAA believes that signals sent in the C-band could interfere with these altimeters – especially old altimeters – creating a potential security problem. Meanwhile, the FCC has already determined that 5G will not represent the problem of modern altimeters, and similar 5G technology has already been deployed seamlessly in Europe.

To give airlines more time to tackle this problem, Verizon and AT&T detained their C-band unfolding twice. The update was originally scheduled for December 5, but carriers agreed to push that deadline back by a month, and then again by two weeks, until January 19, after Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg intervened… But also the FAS announced in December that flights that may rely on a radio altimeter may be rescheduled if there is a risk of 5G interference. This warning essentially turned Verizon and AT&T against the entire aviation industry. Considering the cancellation of flights, airlines, and pilots and StewardessesUnions have spoken out against 5G, arguing that their industry cannot deal with the new turmoil right now.

“Aviation operations have already been pushed to their limits by the ongoing pandemic,” said Sarah Nelson, president of the flight attendants union. recent statement… “Adding stress and creating potentially hazardous conditions will only make an already bad situation worse.”

There is a peace plan, albeit an unreliable one. Late last year, wireless operators and airlines agreed to test how well some radio altimeters perform in real conditions, and the FAA hopes to remove aircraft restrictions, one by one, as airlines prove their altimeters can work when the C-band is on. Wireless providers have also promised not to transmit the C-band to 50 airports selected by the FAA for at least six months, so you can’t blame 5G for any delays or cancellations at any of these airports just yet. If you have a 5G phone and live within a mile of one of these airportshowever, you might be a little more disappointed.

But the standoff raises questions about why US regulators weren’t better prepared for this moment. After all, 5G is not the first next-generation wireless technology. FAA collided… It’s also possible that history repeats itself and the FAA is allowing wireless carriers and airlines to prove to the agency that the C-band is safe, rather than being proactive on its own. The FAA only lifted its unilateral ban on the use of phones and laptops on airplanes in 2013, after years of campaigning by consumer technology industry and frustrated passengers who argued that these devices are unlikely to cause interference problems.

Wireless carriers certainly hope they’ve made enough of the explanation and can finally begin the process of enabling the C-band, which should improve 5G coverage for their customers. But we mustn’t hold our breath. History shows that the FAA is not a fan of mobile phone technology, and there is no reason to believe that the agency will not slow down and ruin the situation again.

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