Ask an Expert: Are airline concerns over 5G technology warranted?

Ask an Expert: Are airline concerns over 5G technology warranted? Ask an Expert: Are airline concerns over 5G technology warranted?

January 20, 20222 min read
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Airlines around the world announced they were grounding planes this week as the rollout of 5G technology was set to begin. Major providers AT&T and Verizon halted their 5G rollout plans amidst the airlines’ claims that the technology would render a large swath of their aircraft unusable.


Dr. Steven Holland, an associate professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, helps sort out the validity of the airlines’ claims and explain why they are so concerned. Dr. Holland is an expert in electromagnetics, antennas and microwave/radio frequency circuits.


“5G wireless systems promise transformational increases in wireless internet speed and connectivity. A key to the higher network speeds is increased 5G radio frequency spectrum usage. While reduced speed 5G has been operational in parts of the US for several years, new 5G frequency spectrum was set to become operational in early December 2021 and offer significantly higher network speeds.


“However, rollout was delayed one month when the FAA raised warnings that 5G towers operating in this new spectrum could interfere with airplane radar altimeters, which operate at frequencies just above this new 5G spectrum. Altimeters are critical instruments in modern aircraft that measure a plane’s altitude, and thus potential interference could be disastrous.


“While the altimeter and 5G frequency bands do not overlap, they are relatively close together, and the altimeter standards were set decades ago when the radio spectrum was far less crowded. As a result, the altimeter circuitry was not designed to operate in the vicinity of systems like the 5G towers that will transmit radio signals so close to the altimeter frequency range.


“Due to limited testing, the FAA and FCC were not able to determine conclusively if the interference concern is warranted before the month-long delay expired in early January, and so an additional two-week delay was instituted. This brings us to today, January 19th – and still no conclusion has been reached by the FCC and FAA. To avoid further rollout delays, today several wireless carriers deployed the new 5G operating band on their networks except for those towers near airports. More extensive testing is needed to determine whether 5G interference is truly a risk to the altimeter systems.”


Dr. Holland is available to speak with media about 5G technology and how it can impact aircraft. Simply click on his icon below to arrange an interview today.



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  • Steve Holland, Ph.D.
    Steve Holland, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Program Director

    Dr. Steve Holland's areas of expertise include electromagnetics, antennas, and microwave/radio frequency circuits.

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