Early this year, the aviation industry and data companies captivated national attention when they encountered obstacles with the deployment of long-awaited 5G networks in areas in proximity to airports. 5G is the 5th and fastest generation of mobile networks, and the rollout of the network had been anticipated for several years. The process was however much less smooth than originally planned, as the aviation safety boards such as the FAA brought forth opposition to the rollout.
The source of the conflict between aviation and 5G networks lies in the frequencies at which equipment on airplanes and data towers operate. In the United States, 5G networks use radio frequencies from 3.7GHz to 3.98GHz, while modern aircraft instruments operate at frequencies starting from 4.2GHz. One of these instruments specifically is the radio altimeter, which uses the 4.2GHz frequency to calculate an aircraft’s height above the ground. The data from radio altimeters is then used with a plethora of other systems including those for navigation, terrain awareness, and collision avoidance. Although the frequencies of 5G do not overlap with the frequencies that these systems use, the FAA and aviation experts think that they are too close to each other and impose a small risk for interference.
What This Means
The FAA has prohibited some specific aircraft from flying in areas where 5G is deployed for the fear that the signals from 5G towers could interfere with the aircraft instruments and provide false information. Data from radio altimeters is crucial for safe landings when there is low visibility. The FAA has approved all Boeing and Airbus aircraft to fly in areas with 5G, but 20% of the United States’ commercial fleet remains unapproved, according to CNN. The aircraft that are not cleared to fly in 5G areas are mostly regional jets from manufacturers such as Bombardier.
To tackle this problem, some have looked to Europe, which has been successful so far in introducing 5G networks nearby airports. Countries in Europe, such as France, have created “buffer zones” near airports, where 5G towers will lower the amount of power they use, and therefore create a weaker signal; however, Europe also has a lower 5G range, from 3.4GHz to 3.8GHz. As a result, some people have proposed the solution of lowering 5G frequencies in the United States, but such a feat would cost data companies billions of dollars and would be too late in the rollout of 5G. It would also upset many customers of 5G. An alternate solution that has been suggested is to add filters onto airplanes’ radio altimeters. This solution, although not impacting 5G itself, would take too long to develop and implement onto the fleet of commercial aircraft.
With this, there, unfortunately, seems to be no clear solution at the moment to the conflict between 5G and airlines. The issue has upset both sides, as wireless data companies have been unable to roll out their highly anticipated 5G networks in areas near airports, and airlines have been concerned with the small risks from 5G. At the heart of the controversy is the question of whether people value faster internet over airline safety, or the other way around. However, looming upon this relatively minor 5G situation, the aviation sector, and data companies will have yet to see what happens when 6G arrives.
- CNN (Cover Image)