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  • Rovindu Ambagolla

Digital Friday >>> Can 5G Bring Down My Flight?

Picture Credit: Amarnath Tade

Earlier this week alarm bells went off across the entire aviation industry over fears that the roll out of 5G technology in the US could potentially interfere with crucial onboard instruments on a flight. The concerns raised by the international aviation industry has forced airliners to temporarily delay and cancel flights into the US until the matter could be resolved.

5G is the next generation in mobile networks, succeeding 4G which was first adopted back in 2009. According to Qualcomm, an American technology company, 5G will be significantly faster than 4G, have lower latency and higher capacity than 4G. 5G then is the foundation in which a new era of technology such as truly autonomous vehicles can become a reality.

US cell phone companies like Verizon and AT&T were ready to roll out their new 5G networks on a spectrum of radio waves between the frequencies 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. These companies paid the US government $81 billion for the right to use these frequencies for their services nationally.

Picture Credit: Matteo Raw

However, concerns have been raised that this frequency used by US communications providers are too close to the radar frequencies used by airports (which ranges from 4.2 to 4.4 GHz). Aviation regulators have warned that 5G antennas near airports could distort readings from radar altimeters, which inform pilots of their altitude. The IATA (International Air Transport Association) and the IFALPA (the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Association) said in a recent statement, "If there is no proper mitigation, this risk has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States as well as in other regions where the 5G network is being implemented next to the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz frequency band”.

It was announced recently however that a crisis has been averted as Verizon and AT&T have agreed to temporarily delay 5G deployment near major airports. This has saved thousands of flights from being cancelled or rescheduled. The telecommunications providers and the White House have agreed to delay the launch until a viable solution can be arranged. So, flights to and from the US are operating as normal now.

The telecom companies however are not content with the delay as they have invested billions into the technology. AT&T spokesperson Megan Ketterer commented, "We are frustrated by the FAA's [Federal Aviation Administration’s] inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner".

European countries have not faced a similar issue because their 5G networks operate on a far different frequency than the airport radars do, so there was never a risk for any interferences.

January 21st 2022 | 4:45 PM

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