The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced a buffer zone for 50 airports to prevent any potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft systems. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have raised concerns that 5G networks using C-band spectrum could interfere with an aircraft’s radio altimeter, an instrument that’s crucial for landing during low visibility.
According to the FAA statement, wireless companies agree to turn off transmitters and make other adjustments near airports for six months to minimise potential 5G interference. It says it will work closely with aerospace manufacturers and wireless companies to make sure 5G is safely deployed and to limit the risk of flight disruptions.
The FAA has released a list of 50 airports which include John F Kennedy International, Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare International, San Francisco International, and Dallas Fort Worth International. It added many airports are not currently affected by the new 5G deployment and these include airports that do not currently have the ability to allow low-visibility landings. Airlines have previously warned that 5G interference may disrupt thousands of flights daily and could cost USD 2 billion annually in delays.
Concerns of 5G interference to aviation have caused delays to American telcos in rolling out 5G using the midrange C-Band. At the moment, most 5G sites in the US are using mmWave that has very limited coverage or low-band frequencies which provides slower 5G speeds. C-band is seen as a sweet spot to provide a wide 5G coverage that’s capable of hitting gigabit speeds.
In Malaysia, Digital Nasional Berhad, the single 5G wholesale network, is currently deploying 5G using C-band but it doesn’t face the same concerns as the US. As highlighted by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), C-band for 5G use in Malaysia uses a lower 3.4-3.6GHz range while the US uses a higher 3.7-3.98GHz range for 5G. An aircraft radio altimeter uses the range of 4.2-4.4GHz, which is closer to the US’ C-band spectrum for 5G.
The MCMC said Malaysia’s 5G usage is further down on the C-band with a broader guard band. This is similar to best practices in Europe and Singapore, where there are no aviation concerns have been raised to date.
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