Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

5G Network and Aviation Safety


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 5G technology

Mains level: Issues with 5g rollout

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued directives to create a framework as well as gather more information about the potential effects of 5G on crucial aviation safety equipment.

What is 5G technology?

  • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks.
  • It mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high-frequency spectrum — all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.

Three bands of 5G

  • The low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second).
  • This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphones users who may not have specific demands for very high-speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for specialised needs of the industry.
  • The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the low band but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals.
  • Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialised factory units for building captive networks that can be moulded into the needs of that particular industry.
  • The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength.
  • Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G have been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

What is the issue?

  • There is a threat of potential radar altimeter interference from 5G cellular in the 3700 MHz-3800 MHz frequency or the C-band.
  • The 3700-4200 MHz band is close to the 4200 MHz-4400 MHz range used by aircraft radio altimeters.

Potential impacts

  • Operations by aircraft including large jets could be limited or prohibited from using certain landing and navigation systems in places where there is scope for potential interference from new 5G cellular networks.
  • The restrictions could be severe for smaller aircraft and helicopters.
  • Overall, these could result in flight cancellations, delays or diversions in 46 places where these towers are, according to an aviation report.

What is the aircraft equipment that can be affected?

  • The radio altimeter measures height (not altitude) of the aircraft above the surface immediately below the plane. It transmits a radio signal directly below.
  • There are various other systems that depend on inputs from the radio altimeter — for example, predictive wind shear, ground proximity warning system, traffic collision avoidance system, and auto land.
  • These effects are only when the aircraft is close to the ground, i.e. up to 2,500 ft above ground level (depending on the aircraft make).
  • Any disturbance to internal radio altimeter readings caused by 5G or other equipment transmitting in frequency bands close to it can result in disastrous effects on crucial systems during approach/landing.

Impact of mobile phones

  • 5G devices can interfere with aircraft altitude instruments and recommended that they should be turned off (or put to flight mode) during flight.
  • Experts believe that electrical interference from a mobile phone could have been a factor in the crash of a small aircraft.
  • The navigation system of the small aircraft could be disrupted by mobile phone signals.
  • But up until now, there has been no evidence of a mobile phone having caused a crash.

What about the implications for India?

  • Pilots in India are aware of the implications of 5G in the country.
  • However, in India, 5G could be rolled out in the 3.2 GHz-3.6 GHz band, which may not have the potential to interfere with aircraft operations.


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