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US airports are at least year late for 5G

Technical difficulties and bureaucracy are preventing telecoms from entering the airports

20.Jun.22 1:53 PM
By Abigail Richards
Photo 5G consortium


US airports are at least year late for 5G
The US roll out of 5G networks is suffering another setback: full 5G is not yet coming from around airports in the United States. Telecom providers Verizon and AT & T agree not to use part of the 5G spectrum in the vicinity of airports. This should give airlines time to check their devices and possibly adjust them against interference from 5G signals.

This is the so-called C-band which is a relatively small but important part of the radio range that 5G can have. The frequencies in the C range are between for 5G in the US between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. Wireless communication technology can go further in terms of physical distance (coverage), but also with more bandwidth (which for many consumers means faster internet speeds). The roll out of 5G in the US has been going on for years, but at the end of last year, commotion arose about the risk of interference with radio altimeters in certain aircraft.

This initially led to 5G postponement and the establishment of 5G-free zones around airports. Emergency consultations, lobbying activities, pressure from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and hastily carried out aircraft inspections followed in January this year. The issue seemed to be addressed at a brisk pace, with the previously determined 5G-free zones still being able to get a little smaller, leading up to completely solving this problem. Now the previously set date of July 5 this year turns out to be not an end point, but only an intermediate station; the 5G roll out is further smeared.

The FAA has agreed with Verizon and AT&T to limit their use of the C-band for another year in the vicinity of airports. Initially, the 5G restriction was set until July 5th. In its announcement of the agreement with the telcos, the FAA speaks of a phased approach that runs until the end of this year. Airlines that use aircraft with radio altimeters that are sensitive to interference from 5G will have until then to address this issue.

The susceptible devices must be provided with filters for the radio frequencies used for the altimeters. Those adjustments should be ready by the end of 2022. "This work has already begun and will continue on an accelerated basis," the FAA said. Aircraft makers Boeing, Airbus, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Embraer have worked with radio altimeter manufacturers to Develop filter and installation kits for some of their aircraft. "Customers are receiving these kits now," the FAA reports in its message last Friday.

In the meantime, there is technically still a risk of less good operation of radio altimeters in certain aircraft models. Radio altimeters are used when there is poor visibility during landings. While this 5G problem does not play outside the US, it does of course affect air traffic from other continents to that country. Meanwhile, there are major interests at play: on the one hand, interests of the aviation industry and on the other, interests of the telecom industry, plus safety for air traffic throughout.

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