How can 5G negatively affect planes?

Several international airlines have recently canceled flights to certain US airports due to concerns that the introduction of 5G mobile communications technology could interfere with the equipment of some aircraft.

Following warnings of a potential problem by the heads of aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration, telecommunications companies AT&T and Verizon have delayed the launch of some 5G masts around US airports.

But how can 5G bother planes? And can the problem be solved? Let’s see.

Currently implemented in several countries around the world, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology. It can offer network speeds up to 100 times faster than what we experienced with 4G.

To provide high speeds with the widest possible coverage, AT&T and Verizon planned to generate 5G Internet using something called C-band frequencies, a type of radio frequency (or radio wave) between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz (GHz).

These frequencies are in close proximity to those used by modern aircraft for altitude measurement. An important part of the aircraft equipment, called the radio visinometer, operates at C-band frequencies between 4.2-4.4 GHz.

Pilots rely on radio visinometers to land the aircraft safely, especially when visibility is poor, for example, when the airport is surrounded by high mountains or foggy conditions.

The concern is that due to the narrow gap between the 5G frequencies and the radio visinometer, the radio waves from the 5G towers near the airports may cause interference. That is, people who use 5G on their phones could inadvertently distort or damage the radio visomometer signal.

If this happens, even for a few seconds, it may mean that the pilot is not receiving accurate information during the landing. For this reason, the US Federal Aviation Administration has expressed concern.

Other countries introducing 5G use C-band frequencies that overlap or are close to the frequencies of radio visinometers without reported problems. For example, in the UK, 5G goes up to 4 GHz.

Some other countries use their 5G at a frequency slightly higher than the frequency of aircraft equipment. In the European Union, for example, 5G goes up to 3.8 GHz. This can be a good option for US airports. The best option, in the long run, would be to use a much larger bandwidth for 5G, such as 24GHz to 47GHz. At these frequencies, the data transfer speeds are significantly higher, although the coverage area of ​​each cell will be much smaller (so you will need more towers).

There is also the possibility of reducing the signal strength from the towers around the airports, which is allegedly done in France and Canada. This is not a frequency change – signal strength is measured in decibels, not GHz – but limiting the signal strength can reduce the likelihood of interference with adjacent bands.

In any case, delaying the introduction of 5G masts near US airports is a good option as authorities determine the safest way to proceed.

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