• 19 May, 2022
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5G Technology on Collision Course With Aviation ?

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Sun, 23 Jan 2022   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

It all started with the launch of the 5G cell phone service in the United States on 19 January 2022. Despite years of lead time, things hadn’t moved the way they should have been. A feud broke out between telecommunication companies and the aviation industry over the issue of interference from high-speed wireless services with aircraft operations. The dispute between the two industries have disrupted flights in and out of the United States. Air India was among the many world airlines that had to cancel their flights to the USA.

On 13 January 2022, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued a statement that “FAA is working to determine which radar (radio) altimeters will be reliable and accurate with 5G C-Band deployed in the United States”.

On 14 January they issued a statement — “The Federal Aviation Administration will require operators of Boeing 787s to take additional precautions when landing on wet or snowy runways at airports where 5G C-band service is deployed”. Such statements made the already chaotic situation much worse.

The telecommunication operators blamed FAA for sitting over the issue for two years. The result was the cancellation of flights and temporary limitation on 5G services around some of the airports. So what’s the essence of the issue? Are 5G services really interfering with aeroplane’s systems? What does this all mean for the future of 5G and 6G networks the world over?

How signals from a base station may occur at the same time and in proximity to altimeter signals: Courtesy 5G Technology World

The Concerns

The 5G network offers increased connectivity, higher bandwidth and extremely fast internet. However, there is one concern, it operates within a specific range of the C-band segment of the radio spectrum. These frequencies are also utilised by aircraft equipment. The mobile signals are not 100 per cent restricted to the assigned frequencies, they can spill over, causing interference with the aeroplane equipment.

In the United States, the spectrum band allocated to 5G services is 3.7 GHz to 3.98 GHz. This frequency is very close to the radio altimeter operating band of 4.2-4.4 GHz. Radio altimeter is the equipment that gives the exact height of the aircraft from above the ground level.

Altimeter receiver filters are inadequate to prevent C-band transmission spill over: Courtesy: Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics

The airlines feel that the 200 MHz separation is not sufficient. Spurious harmonics from the 5G transmission could spill over to the altimeter’s receiver. This could prevent it from receiving ground returns. The primary concern is the absence of a sharp cut-off in an altimeter’s receiver filter.

The radio altimeter is giving feed to many types of equipment onboard an aircraft. Most of these equipment are the basic requirements of any modern aeroplane. Modern aircrafts depend upon radio altimeters for every landing. The aircraft transitions from flight mode to flare more and thereafter ground mode is based upon the feedback from the radio altimeter. Due to erroneous radio altimeter reading, aircraft computers may assume aircraft to be in the air, impacting thrust reversers and braking systems on the ground.

The radio altimeter has a host of important aviation utilizations. Non-availability of the radio altimeter will impact landing in poor visibility conditions. It also impacts its detection capability of a serious weather phenomenon called ‘Wind Shear’. The all important Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) that prevents Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) is also dependent on the radio altimeter. The Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which can avoid a collision or the near-collision situation between two aircrafts, also depends upon the radio altimeter feed at lower altitudes. Required Navigation Performance (RNP) procedures with Authorization Required (AR) that have become an important part of landing aid are also radio altimeter dependent.

The Present Situation

The 5G services have been established in 40 countries around the world without disrupting airlines operations. However, there is a major difference between the United States and the other countries. The European nations are using 3.3-3.8 GHz, South Korea has a 3.42-3.7 GHz band, and Australia is utilizing 3.5 GHz frequency. The power rating is also 150-250 per cent higher in the United States compared to other countries.

The European countries have restricted the height of 5G antennas near airports to decrease the possibility of interference. Canada has also designated areas around airports as “exclusion zones” and restricted the 5G services. The antennas are also required to be tilted down and away from flight paths to avoid interference during the critical landing phase.

The Indian Perspective

Under the planned rollout of the 5G network in India, thirteen cities would get services by the end of 2022. The Indian government and other agencies until now have been proactive in the frequency allocation. The operating band in India is 3.2 to 3.6 GHz. This gives ample margins between the radio altimeter operating frequencies and the 5G spectrum in India.

On 4 January 2022, the Federation of Indian Pilots (FIP) had also written to the Civil Aviation minister asking that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) must coordinate and develop a plan to implement the rollout of 5G technology in India. Their cooperation would enable the implementation of fifth-generation telecom in India, safe and successful.

The Indian aviation watchdog and various ministries must remain proactive when the future expansions in the 5G spectrum take place. The frequency band should not be expanded beyond 3.8 GHz till the time new radio altimeters with filters have proven themselves. DGCA must come out with a detailed plan for 5G antenna height, direction and power output in the vicinity of the Indian airports.

In December 2021, the world’s two biggest aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, had also urged the American government — “5G interference could adversely affect the ability of aircraft to safely operate”. Therefore, the risk assessment by the trade group ‘Airlines for America’ is a genuine one.

A proactive and open policy would go a long way in making air travel, the world’s most safe mode of transportation, safer than ever before.

********************

Author
A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.

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POST COMMENTS (33)

Capt CB Gupta

Jan 31, 2022
Excellent update.

M N Ravindranath

Jan 27, 2022
Had read about the topic in news papers. After reading the article able to understand the seriousness of the situation. Explained in simple words and for a layman like me, it is easier to comprehend the complex problem. Very informative write up. Well done Cdr Sandeep!

ST

Jan 27, 2022
1. More evidence that the 'bean counters' not the actual users and/ or operators are in charge in the US of A. 2. Why can't the US simply adjust those frequencies to mirror other countries such as yours? Excellent current ops OP.

Sukhjit singh

Jan 26, 2022
Educative article for a layman. Complex issue explained in simple terms. Great.

ST

Jan 26, 2022
Rereading your bio I see our careers overlapped. Except mine preceded yours by a few years, and I retired in 2010.

GP Singh

Jan 25, 2022
Thanks for the update.

Judithann Campbell

Jan 25, 2022
Thank you, Commander Dhawan, for once again explaining a complicated topic. I had heard about this problem, but you have helped me to understand it!

Cdr Deepak Singh

Jan 24, 2022
Were they sleeping till now ?? Frequency interference is decently apart as per me But the concern is education for me. Sounds working now with the same frequency use. Results will show more. Awaiting. Waiting for your next article Sandeep.

Rait

Jan 24, 2022
Let's say, it is inevitable and 5G goes on. Is it that only radar altimeter and other crucial aircraft equipment related to 5G freq is effected. What is the alternate???. Can the govt take ownous on giving a safe alternate freq for aircraft system/s....and take the cost part....if yes, then by all means....but then, it will not happen!!!

Dhirender Gaur

Jan 24, 2022
Indeed Enriching. Thanks for sharing this article.

ST

Jan 24, 2022
Found it! Wait one good sir.

Pradeep Sharan

Jan 24, 2022
Absolutely timely and well researched article on relevant issue of interference very lucidly.

Dats

Jan 24, 2022
Well written article Sir with clear perspective

Rominad

Jan 23, 2022
Very informative and easy to understand the concepts I was not aware of.

Praveen Bhaik

Jan 23, 2022
Sorry Sandeep for the name error For Sanjay read Sandeep 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

Praveen Bhaik

Jan 23, 2022
Sanjay, as usual, a very well articulated article, highlighting the concern of the Aviation sector. Keep 'em coming!! 👍

V Mohan

Jan 23, 2022
An informative article by Cdr Sandeep. Well written in simple language for easy assimilation by all. Hope the international spectrum allocation agencies and aircraft manufacturers resolve the issues at the earliest.

Capt Sameer Patwardhan

Jan 23, 2022
A very well articulated article. Nicely explained in simple words. Great going sir!

Sid Gupta

Jan 23, 2022
Great reading. Very informative foe me as I has no idea about aviation frequency allocation in close to 5G band. But I am sure we will have some resolution in days to come. The wold needs 5G communication and we all need risk free aviation 🤪😀

Anupam

Jan 23, 2022
A very lucid and straight article on the pros and cons of 5G on aviation. It's the responsibility of both the Govt and the aviation to find a middle path ti this challenge as both are important. Very well written Cdr Dhawan.

Capt Saikumar

Jan 23, 2022
A well analysed and summarised writeup. Well done again Commander.

Rajneesh Mahajan

Jan 23, 2022
Solution to a problem changes the problem. Well written. Keep it up, Commander.

Maj Gen Ajay Vig

Jan 23, 2022
An extremely incisive and informative article on a contemporary issue. The actual problem has been explained in an extremely lucid manner rather than dvelving into too many technicalities.

Marilee Wein

Jan 23, 2022
Re: spectrum band allocation for 5G in the US is 3.7-3.98 GHz. With 5G enhancements expected, and even 6G, would it not have been helpful if a lower metric had been chosen and deployed in harmony, internationally? That is, did we not learn long ago that rail tracks were best laid in one gauge only? Of course there are factors that prevented such, but to untrained ears, it feels as though we are setting ourselves up to unscramble the airwaves at a later, much more expensive date.

Raman Gupta

Jan 23, 2022
Another paranoia whipped up for purely American concerns. For those of us flying domestic in India, this article has been very reassuring.

Capt Cawas F Motishaw

Jan 23, 2022
A well written article on a very relevant and important topic. Capt Sandeep has explained the aviation sector’s concerns very well. It helps in understanding the issue. Thanks for sharing.

Mrinal Barooah

Jan 23, 2022
Well researched and informative article as usual by capt Sandeep. Always looking forward to read detailed articles by capt Sandeep

Ajay Sharma

Jan 23, 2022
Facts pertaining to 5G have been very well brought out. All stakeholders must bear these when implementing this technology in the country. Sandeep, continue with the good job.

Wendell Bruges

Jan 23, 2022
Very well analysed, Commander. Learned a few new things from your article. I am sure your authorities are listening to the concerns.

Gp Capt Anurag Kumar

Jan 23, 2022
Well researched article and so appropriately timed as India is on throes to join the 5G bandwagon. The perils of implementation of a technology without due safety assessment can be catastrophic as the frequency band interferes with the safety related functions of aircraft. Incorrect/ corrupted data from radio altimeter due 5G interference can cause an untimely thrust reduction on approach and result will be a stall at low levels which will invariably be fatal. Imagine this situation happening in blind Cat 3 landing scenarios. This is one of the malfunctions that this interference can cause. Availability of the data and articles on a public forum will only enhance awareness and contribute to safe operating and technical practices.

Gopu Sundararajan

Jan 23, 2022
Very interesting article and a serious cause for concern which needs to be addressed on priority. Very well drafted. Thanks for sharing.

Prabha Mohan Baliga

Jan 23, 2022
Well . . . someone who was to consider these aspects (interference of frequencies) before allocating 5G spectrum seems to have not slept over the issue then!!!

Narinder Pal Singh Hora

Jan 23, 2022
This is a new field for everyone. Hopefully, since this issue has brought fore the risk to avionics, I am sure with close coordination between agencies involved, we can overcome this and also important is that the aircraft manufacturers come out with suitable filters to make airtravel safe

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