Nothing like a good Godzilla v. Mothra fight, provided you are not caught between them. This one, showcasing airlines and wireless operators over 5G, is set to blow big on Wednesday. Major airlines are threatening to wreak havoc by cancelling passenger and cargo flights that they deem to be at risk of 5G interference. Remember the reason people do something as crazy-seeming as getting into aluminum canisters that fly at >30,000 feet is the airlines’ safety record, which is the product of relentless checks and controls. It took only two Boeing 737 Max crashes to have the FAA lose its status as global regulator of US-made aircraft, a position it may never recover.
Wireless carriers thumbed their noses at the airlines’ request not to deploy 5G transmitters within 2 miles of airports. The airlines did win two delays and some concessions around 50 major airports, but not what the airlines deemed to be a sufficient course change from Verizon and AT&T, who are set to launch their 5G services on January 19. The network operators apparently figured that the two of them having spent $68 billion on spectrum and having a captured regulator gave them the upper hand.
What AT&T and Verizon have missed is air travel and transport are a hell of a lot more important to American commerce than whiz bang cell phone speeds. As Paul Maud’Dib said in Dune, “He who can destroy a thing has real control of it.”
Reuters published an exclusive on the revolt of the air carriers. From its piece:
The chief executives of major U.S. passenger and cargo carriers on Monday warned of an impending “catastrophic” aviation crisis in less than 36 hours, when AT&T (T.N) and Verizon (VZ.N) are set to deploy new 5G service.
The airlines warned the new C-Band 5G service set to begin on Wednesday could render a significant number of widebody aircraft unusable, “could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas” and cause “chaos” for U.S. flights…
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that potential interference could affect sensitive airplane instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.
“This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the letter cautioned.
Airlines late on Monday were considering whether to begin canceling some international flights that are scheduled to arrive in the United States on Wednesday….
Action is urgent, the airlines added in the letter also signed by UPS Airlines, Alaska Air, Atlas Air , JetBlue Airways and FedEx Express. “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt….
United Airlines late Monday separately warned the issue could affect more than 15,000 of its flights, 1.25 million passengers and snarl tons of cargo annually.”
The wireless networks contend that the US carriers are being unreasonable because 5G has been deployed overseas with no airline mishaps. But they know this is a bogus argument; the US spectrum abuts the air carriers’ frequencies, which is not the case elsewhere. As vlade pointed out on an earlier post about this row:
Well, looking at this USA has its own 5G bands, unlike the rest of the world (except for the super-high frequencies, where it’s joined by Japan and South Korea).Maybe there is a good technical reason why the US has to have the spectrum not just close the to altimeter one (4.2-4.4 GHz), but in fact overlapping?
But the A4A said the issue remained unresolved as of December 30, with only days remaining before 3.7 GHz license 5G operations are set to start. According to the A4A, the FCC failed – since the beginning of the C-band proceeding – to explain why it rejected evidence of the “detrimental impact of interference” from 3.7 GHz licenses on radio altimeters
Unfortunately, as people who have been graced by the magic that is RF on a personal level, from the HAM down the street to the engineer in the lab testing the gear, have learned: just because you want to be transmitting on one set of frequencies doesn’t mean you aren’t also transmitting on a whole host of others. Furthermore, old equipment is not designed with constraints nobody had ever thought of at the time in mind.
Mass-produced, cheap RF devices are among the worst offenders, and with 5G base stations deployment being estimated in the millions by the time the rollout is “complete” to get good coverage, the only way for this huge infrastructure deployment to remain profitable for the carriers is for the equipment to be cheap and installed quickly. Cheap means likely QC issues, which mean a lot of unwanted emissions (including pop-fly spurious emissions) are likely. Installed quickly means people aren’t going to be going around doing field strength surveys to make sure the antennas aren’t aimed such that they’re bouncing or even emitting something straight up on the final approach to your local airport. While it isn’t likely to be a constant issue that renders your radar altimeter visibly wonky any time you fly over a 5G coverage area, it has been demonstrated by lab testing that there is a good probability that there will interference given the sheer number of interactions and, take this one seriously; the environment the avionics were designed to operate under – was definitely not a world covered in millions of kiloWatt range ERP transmitters broadcasting with massive bandwidth 24/7, 365.
The last standoff took place in early January, when AT&T and Verizon said they would not push back their January 5 5G launch date and the airlines threatened to get an emergency injunction. As we can see, the wireless carriers delayed for two weeks but otherwise appear not to have ceded much ground.
I assume the carriers will go to court but will also start implementing shutdowns. And if the courts do not move fast enough, this mess will fall in the Biden Administration’s lap. It is over my pay grade as to whether Biden has the authority to use an executive order to curb the AT&T and Verizon, or whether only the courts or Congress can sort this out.
One upside if the airlines and cargo carriers go into partial cessation of operations: it ought to sink Mayo Pete. Just imagine what the Republicans could do with this fiasco if Buttigieg were to become the 2024 Democratic presidential nominee.