5G and airlines: Why the FAA is worried about phones again

Your 5G phone will start working soon, just like the blazingly fast 5G phones you hear in TV commercials. January 19, Verizon and AT&T plan to open The new cellular frequencies will facilitate the connection of tens of millions of cell phones in the United States.Once these waves are activated, you should be able to Download songs to your phone in seconds.

That’s thanks to an increase in C-band frequencies, which not only increases speeds, but also expands 5G coverage.Good news for anyone who owns or plans to buy one of these devices, it will be 10 times faster Once 5G networks are fully operational, their 4G predecessors will be more advanced than their predecessors. But the update rests on a familiar but unexpected critic of cellular technology: the Federal Aviation Administration.

What does 5G have to do with aircraft? Not much, argues wireless carriers looking to deploy the technology.But the FAA expresses concern that C-band could interfere some radio altimeters, aircraft safety tools that rely on nearby radio waves.The agency is so concerned that it has been working on Delay in 5G deployment and prepares for possible causes flight cancellation From airports operating near certain 5G antennas, which means anyone flying or possessing one of these devices could be affected.

It’s unclear if 5G is the problem with these altimeters. After all, 5G itself is not entirely new. 5G smartphones are already Market since 2019, while last year, Nearly 90 million such devices Ships in the US only.Wireless carriers have pledged that 5G technology will not only Higher speed but also lower latency, This will make activities like Streaming and video calling can be implemented without delay.

But to make 5G a reality, wireless companies Over $81 billion spent Purchase rights to use certain parts of the radio spectrum – specifically, C-band frequencies 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. Wireless providers use a range of frequencies to send data between cell phones and transmission stations, such as phone towers, that connect these devices to the Internet. Each frequency band has its own advantages and disadvantages.

C-band is considered to be sweet spot Spectrum is a key part of wireless companies’ 5G ambitions. 5G phones can already connect to the so-called millimeter-wave spectrum, which operates at very high frequencies.This mmWave band Supports very high speeds, can carry a lot of data, but doesn’t stretch very far. 5G phones can also connect to low-band spectrum that operates at much lower frequencies. Low-band frequencies can cover large areas but can only support small amounts of data, making them slower. C-band is essentially a middle ground between low-band and millimeter-wave, so it covers a large area at fairly high speeds.Once they are turned on, these frequencies should be sufficient to eventually see a real difference Between 5G and 4G your daily life.

Flight regulators are nervous about this C-band update because it could affect radio altimeters on some aircraft. This device emit radio waves From the plane to the ground to help measure the altitude of the plane.Altimeter at cloudy day or at mountains, when the pilots cannot see where they landed. The problem is that altimeters rely on parts of the spectrum adjacent to the radio waves used in the C-band. In a nightmarish scenario, the FAA believes that signals sent over the C-band could interfere with these altimeters— Especially older altimeters — cause potential safety problems.Meanwhile, the FCC has determined that 5G will not Problems with modern altimeters, and similar 5G technology has been deployed in Europe without any problems.

To give airlines more time to fix the problem, Verizon and AT&T Postponed Their C-band was launched twice. The update was originally scheduled for Dec. 5, but the carriers agreed to push back the deadline by a month, then two weeks, to Jan. 19, after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: intervention. But the FAA also Announce In December, flights that may rely on radio altimeters may need to be rescheduled if there is a risk of 5G interference. The warning effectively pits Verizon and AT&T against the entire airline industry.With flight cancellations at stake, airlines and pilot and flight attendant‘ Unions have already rallied against 5G, arguing that their industry can’t handle more disruption now.

Flight Attendants Union President Sara Nelson a recent statement. “Increasing stress and creating potentially dangerous conditions will only make a bad situation worse.”

There is a peace plan, although it is unstable.Late last year, wireless carriers and airlines agreed to test the performance of some radio altimeters real world conditions, FAA wants to lift restrictions on aircraft, as airlines prove their altimeters work when C-band is turned on.Wireless providers also promise not to 50 airports Selected by the FAA for at least six months, so you can’t blame 5G for any delays or cancellations at any of these airports.If you have a 5G phone and live far away one of these airports, however, you may be more frustrated.

But the impasse raises the question of why U.S. regulators are not better prepared for this moment.After all, 5G isn’t the first new generation of wireless technology The FAA encountersIt’s also possible that history could repeat itself, and the FAA is getting wireless carriers and airlines to certify to the agency that C-band is safe, rather than taking a proactive stance on their own.The FAA only lifted its unilateral ban on the use of cell phones and laptops on planes in 2013, a move from The consumer tech industry and frustrated passengers Who thinks these devices are unlikely to cause interference problems.

Wireless carriers certainly hope they’ve explained enough to finally begin the process of turning on C-band, which should lead to better 5G coverage for their customers. But we shouldn’t hold our breath. History shows that the FAA doesn’t like cell phone technology, and there’s no reason to think the agency won’t delay and disrupt things again.

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