The 5G debate is not as one-sided as some would lead you to believe

FCC v. FAA on 5G
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The narative on the 5G aircraft interference has been skewed

FAA identifies a specific fix for the radio altimeter

Final Answer–there was an unacceptable risk and it is solvable

The FAA, per the below Simple Flying article, convened a meeting to bring a technical solution to the nagging problem of the telecoms’ implementation of their profitable 5g FCC franchise. No doubt that this improved coverage, cheaper operating costs, and faster speeds technology will help the US’ economy, but this expansion has implications for aviation safety.

 After getting access to the AT&T and Verizon data, the aviation safety organization identified aircraft with altimeters unaffected by the proposed/already implemented spectrum and removed them from the battlefield. The new news is that a modification of the problem altitude measuring devices will eliminate the safety risk of their equipment.

The above short paragraph places this bizarre public policy debate in a more modulated context.5G example over a city

Before the FCC completed its lucrative auction of a frequency range, for which the telecom companies paid BILLIONS, the aviation industry and the FAA made it clear that, in their expert opinions, the proximity of this additional spectrum would compromise AVIATION SAFETY. The aviation trade press recounted the recent history on this contest.”

“In the frenzy that followed the fractured rollout of 5G in January, the FAA quickly cleared about 90 percent of the fleet for operations where 5G is available, but the remainder are restricted in the types of instrument landings they can do.”

The press and libertarian intellectuals, among others, have excoriated the aviation industry for slowing down this free enterprise venture.

“…the aviation industry bringing the Biden administration’s transportation secretary into the multiyear industry tussle over spectrum management didn’t prevent “a collision over 5G wireless spectrum,” nor did it solve the underlying problem..

As I have pointed out , the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) own [SIC– see fn1-NTIA controls the process] clearance process[1] — not the change in spectrum use — created the currently cumbersome dilemma… one record-breaking commercial spectrum auction later , alleged safety concerns from the FAA again threw a wrench in the process.

Doubting the efficacy of the FAA’s technical judgement has become an easy target post the Max 8 debacle. Perhaps one may easily question its risk assessment of the 5G interference, but any good policy decisional process has to assign some value to the potential consequences IF the altimeter provides a false reading. Such an error, particularly as a plane departs or lands, is catastrophic.  A visit to an aircraft crash site adds a bias for measures which may increase the margin to  save lives.

After years of discourse, claims of an inappropriate risk  and of acceptable risk have a final answer– an unjustifiable problem existed and now will be addressed.

example of 5G interference






The FAA Wants 5G Sensitive Aircraft Equipment Replaced



The 5G fiasco is far from over.altimeter on B 737

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are expected to meet airline industry stakeholders to discuss 5G-related matters. According to Reuters, the FAA wants airlines to replace affected aircraft radio altimeters. The meeting comes almost exactly two months before the delayed 5G rollout by telecom companies like AT&Tnational 5g map and Verizon Communications near airports.

In late 2021, the FAA expressed concern about the planned 5G rollout in the United States. The US government agency, along with the International Air Transport Association (IATA), flagged possible interference between the frequencies used by newer 5G networks and radio altimeters in passenger planes.

What is the meeting about?

As it stands, major telecom companies agreed to create low-intensity ‘buffer zones’ near airports and runways where the troublesome 5G C-Band signal would make itself scarce to avoid any untoward aviation safety risks. These buffer zone arrangements are effective only until July 5th, 2022

The meet aims to focus on ways to ensure that post the mentioned date, 5th generation mobile network frequencies don’t interfere with radio altimeters in some aircraft. The issue is quite polarizing as the FAA and airline conglomerates believe new C-Band frequencies pose a threat to aviation safety. Still, at the same time, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and telecom companies don’t subscribe to that theory.

This dispute has been going on since late 2021[2], and none of the stakeholders seemed keen on backing down from their respective stands. However, it seems the FAA may be willing to make a major compromise by asking airlines to replace old altimeters with new ones that would have better range filters, capable of limiting interference from neighboring frequencies.

An FAA spokesperson told Simple Flying:

The FAA hosted a roundtable discussion with about 40 aviation and wireless industry representatives on Wednesday to consider the next steps in the continued safe coexistence of aviation and 5G C-band wireless service. The groups had a wide-ranging and positive discussion and will continue to collaborate as they work to address the remaining technical challenges.

altimeter GarminThe problem with 5G

Understanding the technicalities of the 5G problem can be a bit difficult for someone without a degree in electronics engineering, but here’s a simplified version. Airplanes use radio altimeters, also known as RadAlt, to measure their altitude from the ground using bouncing radio waves in the range of 4.2 to 4.4 GHz.

This wasn’t a problem for airlines until US telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon found they could achieve the perfect balance of coverage and speed in so-called ‘C-Band’ frequencies that operate from 3.7 to 3.98 GHz. These frequencies are pretty close to the spectrum used by global aviation, and therefore, the FAA believes the chances of interference are substantial.frequency spectrum

Telecom providers have a plethora of reasons for their unwillingness to give up their frequencies. As mentioned, the notorious C-Band frequency provides a myriad of advantages over others, the most prominent of them being improved coverage, cheaper operating costs, and faster speeds. Secondly, companies like AT&T have spent tens of billions in acquiring licenses to these frequencies from the FCC, and suddenly giving them up would be bad for business.

risk reward

altimeter retrofitNow that the FAA is pushing for replacing affected altimeters (or retrofitting them with antenna filters[3]), telecom giants would finally be able to unleash the C-Band’s full potential without any restrains.

However, only the results of today’s meeting will decide the future course of the 5G issue. It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the near future. As always, Simple Flying will be quick to report on any further developments.


[1]  “The FAA has managed and protected that radio spectrum for FAA and DOD for many years.  FAA was the focal point for coordination and frequency assignments recommendation to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for final approval in this band.

[2] The debate predates 2021 as shown by this objection posted 4 years before– 2017 JOURNAL POST ABOUT 5gAuctioning Aeronautical Radionavigation Spectrum Is A Major Mistake.. The year cited was when the FAA escalated the debate.

[3] “Decades ago, when the original specification was created for the radar altimetry, the Radio Frequency (RF) environment was protected. However, with new terrestrial broadband datalink systems such as 5G, and as identified by the RTCA Special Committee, these devices may be compromised in the new environment.

The new radar altimeters feature redesigned RF circuitry built to withstand 5G interference. This adaptation will increase this critical sensor’s availability and reliability – the only sensor onboard an aircraft capable of detecting clearance height above terrain – in those challenging RF interference environments…

A straightforward retrofit solution”

5G tower near plane taking off


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