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FAA reveals exactly what it thinks 5G will do to airplane electronics

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has started to provide the airline industry with ‘Notice to Air’ missions that detail how 5G networks could potentially affect aircraft equipment. (opens in new tab)

The FAA is concerned that C-Band 5G could affect sensitive electronics, like altimeters, that rely on frequencies located between 4.2 and 4.4GHz. These fears are disputed by mobile operators who will start the commercial rollout of such networks next week.

Mid-range C-Band spectrum offers a compromise between the range and indoor penetration characteristics of low-range airwaves and the huge capacity offered by high-band frequencies. AT&T and Verizon Wireless won C-Band licenses at an auction last year that raised $80 billion for the American government.

5G vs. the airlines: a brief timeline

Jan. 28:  FAA greenlights 5G at the airport  The FAA's ongoing battle with Verizon and AT&T over ultra-fast 5G C-band deployment around airports is finally ending: On Friday, the FAA announced an agreement on new steps that allow yet more 5G towers to operate safely around key airports.

Jan. 13:  FAA reveals exactly what 5G will do to airplanes The FAA is providing the airline industry with ‘Notice to Air’ missions that detail how 5G networks could potentially affect aircraft equipment, notably altimeters that rely on frequencies located between 4.2 and 4.4GHz.

Jan. 10:  50 airports get 5G "buffer zones" Airports in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and more are covered by the new restrictions, with some airports excluded because they do not permit low-visibility landings or because 5G towers are not close enough to cause concern.

5G airport buffers

Reuters says more than 300 notices have been issued by the FAA, detailing how aircraft with untested altimeters that need retrofitting or replacing will be unable to perform low-visibility landings at airports where 5G powered by ‘C-Band’ spectrum has been deployed.

The FAA has received additional transmitter location data from operators which mean that some aircraft will still be able to land in low visibility conditions on some runways without restrictions and says it plans to update the industry as it continues its research.

Both T&T and Verizon Wireless agreed to delay the launch of their respective services and introduce measures that mitigate any perceived issues, including airport buffer zones. 50 airports, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami are covered by the new restrictions, with some airports excluded because they do not permit low-visibility landings or because 5G towers are not close enough to cause concern.

Mobile operators and industry bodies say there is no credible evidence of interference, noting that other countries have deployed C-Band 5G with no problems and that there is a sufficient spectrum gap between bandwidth allocated for mobile and for aviation. Others have questioned why the FAA has waited so long before expressing is concerns.

Via Reuters (opens in new tab)

Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.