FAA Wants to Holdup Your 5G Spectrum for Itself

The future of America’s 5G wireless services may be threatened by unwarranted concerns coming from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A few weeks ago, the FAA issued a Guidance Bulletin that called on manufacturers to evaluate the host of altimeters in use and report back on possible interference from 5G wireless services, and issued a warning to pilots. Last week, major 5G wireless carriers attempted to diffuse the controversy by delaying expansion and power levels near airports.

The FAA says they are worried that 5G wireless services that use a portion of spectrum called the C-Band, claiming that it may — just may — interfere with radio altimeters gauge an airplane’s  altitude. Protecting an airplane’s altimeters from interference is crucial, except that the call of warning is baseless in that the FAA has not provided reliable evidence to demonstrate that 5G services pose a threat to flight safety.

For several years now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the designated expert agency with experience and responsibility to understand spectrum and interference issues, has studied the issue and collected information and comments during opened proceeds, but has concluded that the 5G C-Band spectrum poses no problem for passenger safety. The FCC found that mandating 220+ megahertz of guard band between 5G C-Band operations and the space aviation occupies would provide more than enough buffer space to allow both altimeters and 5G services to operate without interference.

Real world experience also shows that 30-plus countries use the same spectrum bands for 5G services but have not had a problem with interference. In Japan, where 90,000 5G base stations are currently deployed, a 100-megahertz buffer guard – less than half the FCC rule – has provided stark evidence that altimeters and 5G services can safely coexist. Moreover, other European countries have had the same experience in deploying 5G base stations without safety issue, yet the FAA does not mention concerns over these flights.

From all of the evidence, it is clear that 5G, as deployed under FCC oversight, does not put aircraft in danger, as pointed out by Senator Blackburn during last Wednesday’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Yet, in some sort of power grab, the FAA seems to be interested in reserving the spectrum, possibly for itself.

What appears to be a kneejerk reaction puts a lot at stake. For one, it would slow or block 5G deployment at the detriment of consumers who want faster and more dependable wireless services. That delay will cost jobs, decrease GDP, reduce consumer benefits, and unnecessarily compromise international competitiveness.

5G networks and the Internet-of-Things will usher in a new era of innovation. Smart Cities and homes will be more comfortable, safer, and better equipped to meet our needs. Traffic will flow more faster and with less latency, and our first responders will have more applications and capabilities available to them. Empirical evidence shows that rolling out the network over a seven-year period will increase U.S. economic output by an estimated $533 billion, add $1.2 trillion in economic benefits, and create 435,000 new, living-wage jobs. Once its rolled out, 5G technology will create trillions more in consumer benefits from the new services and applications. However, blocking these 5G applications and services will mean blocking these benefits from being realized.

Slowing the deployment of 5G infrastructure and services will mean the loss of U.S. leadership, and conceding that position to the Chinese, who are doing everything in their power to deploy 5G services and sell their equipment worldwide. Essentially, it would hinder progress in the development and adoption of new applications for education, healthcare, entertainment, telecommuting, business productivity, and so on. If the U.S. does not get 5G broadband deployment right, American consumers will be left behind.

The FCC auction of mid-band spectrum wrapped up last January and raised over $80 billion in revenue. Congress should consider the long run consequences that would results from devaluing the spectrum that wireless providers are eager to acquire and build upon. The FAA does not own the spectrum and FCC has cleared the path for its deployment.

After years of analysis and regulatory comments, the FAA has not provided the evidence to show there are risks posed by the deployment of 5G services. At the same time, the FCC has not found any problems, and FCC does not seem to have concerns over the buildout of services overseas. There is simple no credible evidence to support the FAA claims and plenty evidence that disproves them. Maybe the FAA is tacitly acknowledging that it still relies on some outdated altimeter equipment that bleeds into neighboring spectrum bands. If so, the FAA has had ample time to fix it and it should fix it now.

Building out U.S. 5G capacity is far too important to let a problem that doesn’t exist slow it down.

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