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

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

Your 5G phone could soon start working like the incredibly fast 5G phone you heard about in TV commercials. Jan. 19, Verizon and AT&T plan to include new cellular frequencies that will increase connections by tens of millions of phones across the United States. When these waves are activated, you should be able to download the song to your phone in just a few seconds.

This is thanks to the addition of the C-band frequency, which can not only improve speeds but also expand 5G coverage. This is welcome news for anyone who owns or plans to purchase any of these devices, which they will be more than 10 times faster than their 4G predecessors when 5G networks become fully operational. But this update depends on a well-known but unexpected critic of mobile technology: the Federal Aviation Administration.

What has 5G got to do with airplanes? Not much, say wireless operators hoping to implement the technology. But the FAA says it is concerned that the C-band could interfere some radio altimeters, aircraft safety tools that rely on nearby waves. The agency is so worried that it is fighting for it postpone 5G implementation and has prepared guidelines that could cause flight cancellations from airports operating near certain 5G antennas, which means that anyone who flies or has one of these devices can be affected.

It is unclear whether 5G is a problem for these altimeters. After all, 5G itself isn’t exactly new. 5G smartphones were on the market market from 2019, and last year, almost 90 million of these devices shipped in the United States only. Wireless operators have promised that 5G technology will not only have higher speeds, but also lower latency, which will make activities like streaming media and video calls achievable without any lag.

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

The C-band is considered a sweet place on the spectrum and is a critical part of the 5G ambitions of wireless companies. 5G phones can already be connected to what is called the millimeter wave spectrum, which operates at a very high frequency. The millimeter wave frequency range supports very high speeds and can transfer a lot of data, but does not extend very far. 5G phones can also be connected to the low-band spectrum, which operates at a much lower frequency. Low-range frequencies can cover large areas, but can only support a small amount of data, making them slower. The C-band is essentially the middle ground between the low range and the millimeter wave, so it covers a good part of the area at fairly high speeds. Once turned on, these frequencies should be sufficient to finally see the real difference between 5G and 4G in your daily life.

Flight controllers are very nervous about this C-band update as it could be affected radio altimeters of certain aircraft. This device transmits radio waves from the plane to the ground to help measure the height of the plane. Altimeters are especially useful on a cloudy day or u mountainous area, when pilots do not see where they are landing. The problem is that altimeters rely on parts of the spectrum that are adjacent to air waves used by the C-band. In the nightmare scenario, the FAA thinks that signals sent over the C-band could interfere with these altimeters – especially older altimeters – creating a potential security problem. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission has already determined that 5G will not be represented a problem for modern altimeters, and similar 5G technology is already deployed in Europe without any problems.

To give airlines more time to address this issue, Verizon and AT&T they postponed their C-band introduction twice. The update was originally scheduled for December 5th, but the carriers agreed to move the deadline by a month, and then again by two weeks, until January 19th, after Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg entered. But also the FAA announced December that flights that could rely on a radio altimeter could be moved if there is a risk of 5G interference. That warning, in fact, opposed Verizon and AT&T to the entire aviation industry. With the cancellations in question, the airlines as well pilot i flight attendants‘Unions have rallied against 5G, arguing that their industry cannot tolerate more disruption at the moment.

“Aviation is already stretched to the breaking point due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Sarah Nelson, president of the flight attendant union in recent statement. “Adding a load and creating potentially dangerous conditions will only make the bad situation worse.”

There is a peace plan, although it is uncertain. Wireless operators and airlines agreed late last year to test how well some radio altimeters work in actual conditions, and the FAA hopes to repeal it restrictions on aircraft, one by one, while airlines prove that their altimeters can work when the C-band is on. Wireless providers have also promised not to transmit C-band to 50 airports Chose the FAA for at least six months, so you still can’t blame 5G for delays or cancellations at any of these airports. If you have a 5G phone and live within one mile one of these airportshowever, you may be a little more frustrated.

But this conflict raises questions about why US regulators were not better prepared for the moment. After all, 5G is not the first new generation of wireless technology The FAA came along. It is also possible that history is repeating itself, and the FAA is allowing wireless operators and airlines to prove to the agency that the C-band is safe, rather than taking a proactive stance on its own. It was not until 2013 that the FAA lifted its unilateral ban on the use of phones and laptops on airplanes, following a years-long campaign. consumer technology industry and frustrated travelers who claimed that these devices are unlikely to cause interference problems.

The wireless operators certainly hope that they have explained enough and that they can finally start the process of including the C-band, which should bring their users better 5G coverage. But we should not hold our breath. History shows that the FAA is not a fan of mobile phone technology, and there is no reason to think that the agency will not stop and disrupt things again.

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