US airlines sound alarm bell over 5G: Could it be a threat in Australia?

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Key highlights

  • US telecom giants AT&T and Verizon on Wednesday delayed launching 5G mobile services near key airports.
  • Leading U.S. airlines earlier sounded an alarm bell over the 5G roll out saying it could interfere with aircraft technology.
  • The Australian aviation authority recently said there were no sign of 5G interference in Australia.

US telecom giants AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) on Wednesday delayed launching 5G mobile services near key airports after leading US airline players sounded an alarm bell over the 5G roll out saying it could interfere with aircraft technology and result in massive disruptions in flight operations.

This decision from the telcos follows several international flight cancellations by Emirates and other major international airlines over fears of 5G frequencies interfering with airplane radio altimeters--instruments that measure an aircraft's clearance height from the ground--that use identical airwaves to be used by American telcos for 5G rollout.

American airlines wanted 5G services to be banned within two miles of airport runways.

AT&T mentioned it would delay rolling out new mobile phone towers in areas closer to the airport runways at some airports, although it did not reveal the number of airports and the time period for which it is delayed.

ALSO READ: Thousands of flights disrupted worldwide amid US 5G rollout

Soon after AT&T's statement, Verizon said it would roll out 5G adding that "we have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports."

These announcements came after CEO's of biggest airlines of the country said interference with aircraft system would be worse than they initially thought, making many flights inoperable.

What spooked American airlines

American airlines and aircraft manufacturers had earlier said that the airwave band used by aircraft's radio altimeters is close to the airwaves to be used by U.S. telecommunication companies.

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Radio altimeters use airwaves in 4.2-4.4Ghz range. Meanwhile, US telecom operators run their 5G networks in 3.70-3.98Ghz frequencies. This is also known as the C band. Airlines fear the 220MHz gap between the top end of the 5G frequencies (3.98GHz) and the lower end of the radio altimeter range (4.2GHz) may lead to interference and radio altimeters may not function properly.

ALSO READ: What does 5G mean for the environment?

Worth mentioning here is that proper functioning of altimeters is crucial to the airline operation as automated landing, in low-visibility conditions, relies on radio altimeters. If automated landing does not work, because of airwave interference, in airports that is fogged in, then the aircraft would have to be diverted to another airport. This would lead to addition fuel, cost, and cause disruption.

It may be noted that many international flights and cargo planes use automated landing procedure in low-visibility conditions caused by fog or cloud.

Should Australian airlines worry

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in a recent post on its website said there has been no reports of radio altimeter incidents linked to 5G since the roll out of the advanced telecommunication technology two years ago.

CASA said Australian 5G transmissions, at present, top out at 3.7GHz, which is 500MHz below the bottom end of radio altimeter frequencies.

It may be noted that in other countries like India, 5G airwaves go up to 3.6GHz while in Europe 5G transmissions peak out at 3.8GHz.

ALSO READ: How has Huawei’s exit affected the 5G setup in Australia

The Australian aviation authority said it is monitoring the situation and has urged pilots to report anomalies if any.



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