Two Federal Agencies Clash Over the Rollout of 5G Technology

Technology Policy Brief #68 | By: Salim Rizvi | February 7, 2022

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Rollout of 5G in US POSTPONED hours before switch, over fears of interference during flight.

Photo taken from: Day to News (.com)

Policy Summary

After weeks of haggling and scrambling over the rollouts of new 5G wireless network services near airports, the federal regulator of airlines operations i.e. The Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) and wireless communication companies have agreed upon a system to fly planes safely even as the new wireless technology is rolled out.

The 5G service was scheduled to roll out in Dec, 2021 but concerns were raised by airlines industry about the interference with the key device in cockpits that helps pilots to land planes safely. The radio altimeter uses the same frequencies as the C-band being used by the 5G wireless technology. There were fears of disruptions of passenger and cargo flights due to the rollouts of 5G wireless services which carry possible risk of interference with the landing equipment of the planes.

As suggested by some airlines, the F.A.A. had restricted the 5G network services from beaming signals within a 2-mile radius of major airports.

Policy Analysis

The airlines industry and the FAA have been at odds with the telecom companies and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the risk of interference with the key aviation signals. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr openly criticized the FAA for restricting the 5G technology roll out..The telecom companies cite the example of some European countries where 5G technology is being used around airports. But the aviation industry points out that in Europe 5G technology uses 3.4 to 3.8 GHz, which is the slower range of spectrum, while US 5G uses C-Band which is from 4.2 to 4.4 GHz, the range that could interfere with the radio frequency of radar altimeters in the cockpit.

Now, with the new understanding, the F.A.A. and the telecom companies seem to be working on a long-term solution.  They are working to get the exact locations of the 5G transmitters near airports and to try and mitigate the frequency interference.

The F.A.A. says the telecom companies have shared more information about the locations of 5G transmitters, which it says may help in analyzing the data and the interference risk to the key aviation devices. The airlines industry has been calling for the upgrade of the radio altimeter devices in the planes which ensures safe operations of flights along with the new wireless technology.

FAA lists 50 airports that will have 5G buffer zones ahead of C-band expansion

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Why do we need this 5G technology?

This is the fifth-generation technology in which the major telecom companies in US have invested billions of dollars.This new wireless technology is being presented as the technology which guides the future of businesses and communications the world over. The telecom experts say the new 5G wireless technology makes internet access faster which is being touted by the telecom companies as good for both businesses and individual customers, as it improves access to internet.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

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FCC – Federal Communications Commission

Seal of the United States Federal Aviation Administration.svg

FAA – Federal Aviation Administration

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Airlines for America – This organization advocates on behalf of the US Airlines industry. The organization includes members like Delta Airlines, United Airlines as well as shipping companies like UPS and FedEx.

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