The Federal Aviation Administration, a U.S. regulatory agency, is getting ready to issue a warning to airlines and pilots about the potential impact of 5G wireless networks on navigation devices, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The special bulletin that the FAA has been drafting reportedly indicates that the towers for the new high-speed cellular service are the source of the possible interference, not users’ smartphones or other connected devices. Automated features in cockpit safety systems, such as radar altimeters, could be affected by the C-band frequencies (3.7–4.2 GHz) used in many 5G signals, according to the FAA. As rollout of 5G nationwide proceeds, the risk will increase, especially in areas that have a greater density of towers.
While the mere mention of a problem involving commercial airline safety and 5G is enough to strike fear into the mobile industry, it should be noted that there is a conflict going on here between two U.S. regulatory agencies, the FAA and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). The FCC, as reported in the Journal, says that the concerns of the FAA are not supported by the evidence, and that there is no reason to believe that 5G signals will interfere with plane’s navigation and other safety systems.
Mobile operators are slated to begin operating 5G in the C-band on 5 December, and while aviation systems operate in adjacent frequencies (4.2–4.4 GHz), the FCC stated in March 2020, when it laid down its rule for spectrum use, that “well-designed equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference).”
The CTIA, a trade group that includes the major U.S. operators AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US, issued a statement in which its president, Meredith Attwell Baker, said that 5G networks are safe and that “any delay in activating this spectrum risks America’s competitiveness and jeopardizes our ability to ensure global 5G leadership.”
MNOs and the FCC are allies in the current disagreement, and it remains to be seen what effect the FAA’s warning will have on the deployment of 5G. As of now, the warning has not even been issued yet. But the issue of air safety is of course an extremely important one, and the stakes are high, so the mobile industry will be following the debate closely and doing all it can to make sure that its newest, game-changing product, 5G, will be rolled out as fully and as safely as possible.