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Explained: America’s 5G problem and its implications for Indian carriers | Latest India News


Air India has announced it is canceling some of its most popular direct flights to and from cities across the United States and some of the biggest names in aviation around the world have sounded the alarm over the expansion of 5G mobile services in US cities.

The threat stems from the risk these waves pose to aircraft instruments, affecting at least some commonly used jets like the Boeing 777, which will need to undergo a retrofit to avoid the problem. The issue is unlikely to be an issue in Europe and Japan, where there have been enough changes in 5G rollout to ensure there is no interference, or in India, where the frequency band is different.

India’s Civil Aviation Authority said on Wednesday the issue was difficult for all stakeholders, and Boeing and Airbus warned last month that US operators alone could face revenue losses of up to $2 billion. The American telecommunications majors AT&T and Verizon announced on Tuesday that they were postponing the activation of 5G networks near airports for the time being.

HT takes a look at the issues at play, the implications for Indian carriers and the country’s plans for the 5G upgrade.

Risk of instrument interference

At the heart of the issue is how often US telecom carriers will operate their 5G networks. AT&T and Verizon use the 3700 megahertz (mhz) and 3980 mhz frequencies in what is known as the C band b.

The aviation industry is concerned that this frequency band is very close to the 4200 MHz – 4400 MHz (4.2 GHz to 4.4 GHz) frequency that aircraft use for equipment and communications, especially in a device called radar altimeters. “5G interference could harm aircraft’s ability to operate safely,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and Airbus CEO Jeffrey Knittel wrote in a joint letter to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in December. .

Radio altimeters are essential for landings in low visibility, such as during periods of fog or heavy rain. They minimize the risk of accidents or collisions thanks to precise readings of the proximity to the ground.

Arun Kumar, Director General of the DGCA, said: “This (the deployment of 5G communications in the United States) is a challenge for everyone involved. We hope that an amicable resolution will take shape as soon as possible.

Is India’s 5G plan also under threat?

Several telecommunications companies, Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vi, are expected to roll out 5G services later in 2022. “In the post-pandemic world, connectivity is a big issue and a bigger asset for the economy. It is essential that the country has the spectrum required to meet the growing demands for wireless connectivity, as they will be integral to the growth of the nation,” said Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar, Chief Executive of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

At present, India’s plans are unlikely to be affected, as the band of radio waves that Indian telecom operators will use is farther from the US C-band, meaning there are will have a large buffer to avoid interference.

“The government has decided that spectrum in the 3300-3670 MHz frequency range should be made available to telecommunications service providers for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) and 5G,” the Telecom Regulatory Authority said. of India (TRAI) in the latest consultation document.

“In general, we think this will be the starting point (mid-band spectrum) because it offers good 5G performance, although inferior to high-band spectrum,” said Sriram Rupanagunta, co-founder and vice president. senior of Aarna Networks, a company that has expertise in 5G private networks.

Rupanagunta added that several countries are using 5G without such concerns and that there are ways to deal with the risks, for example by “reducing the power of networks near airports”.

The Federation of Indian Pilots (FIP) and Air India did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reliance Jio, Airtel and Vi declined to comment, saying COAI is the authorized body to address such concerns.

Approach by other countries

5G implementation, including transmitter power levels, frequencies, and proximity to flight operations, has varied according to local guidelines, and there are differences with how more than 20 countries in the European Union have deployed 5G wireless transmitters near airports, compared to the United States.

“Several countries around the world are deploying 5G C-band in a way that presents much less chance of interference with radar altimeters. Reasons include other countries using reduced or increased power level limits. frequency spectrum spacing between 5G and radar altimeters,” Capt. Joseph DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), said in a statement.

Three main elements stand out. Transmitters (in Europe) have a power cap of 613 watts, while rules in the United States allow them to transmit at 1,585 watts, which is two and a half times more. Second, the deployment of transmitters must give airports a buffer zone of 96 seconds of flight, landing or take-off time. In the United States, temporary guidelines consider about 20 seconds as a buffer.

“In France, the government has required the antenna to be tilted downwards to limit harmful interference. Similar restrictions do not apply to US deployment,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) noted.

Similar guidelines for 5G networks in India have yet to be finalized.

CTIA, or Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, in its latest report points out that Japan has deployed 5G base stations up to 4100 MHz, without interference from air services in the country. It just means a 100 MHz buffer zone.

“The ACMA considers a guard band of 200 MHz between the WBB and the radio altimeters to be sufficient,” noted the Australian Communication and Media Authority in the latest guidelines for the use of the 3700 MHz to 4200 band. MHz for 5G services.

Large disruptions feared at present

According to the FAA, there are 137 aircraft in the United States and 1,010 worldwide that have yet to be affected due to the risk of frequency overlap, and will require either retrofitting or the use of alternative methods during a landing in low visibility.

An initial delay in 5G rollout, the FAA said Jan. 3, allowed the aviation community and mobile companies to reduce the risk of delays and cancellations by getting more data and identifying the nature of devices that can remain effective.

As of last week, the FAA began issuing restrictions that airlines and other aircraft operators will face at many airports with the launch of new 5G wireless service. “Aircraft with altimeters that are untested or that need to be upgraded or replaced will not be able to perform low visibility landings where 5G is deployed,” the agency said in a statement.

The FAA on January 16 cleared approximately 45% of the US commercial fleet for low visibility landings at many airports where C-Band 5G will be deployed. The agency has also approved two models of radio altimeters which are installed in a wide variety of Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

Approved aircraft models include certain Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, MD-10/-11 and Airbus A310, A319, A320, A321, A330 and A350.

Aviation safety expert Mohan Ranganathan said the situation was “certainly a threat to the aircraft, but only when using a procedure or equipment involving the use of a radio altimeter”.

“However, CAT I (Category I) on Instrument Landing System (ILS) or LNAV (lateral navigation) and VNAV (vertical navigation) approach, which is satellite-based and does not use a radio altimeter to determine height, is not affected,” he added. .

“By doing this (using these methods) they don’t have to cancel flights unless the weather conditions at the destination airport are bad. There is no need to panic,” Ranganathan said.

“Unfortunately, the DGCA doesn’t really have a procedure in place for the use of LNAV and VNAV in India, unlike other parts of the world, so we don’t have data-based approaches. satellites,” he added.

The way forward: frequency and equipment testing

The advantage telecom players in India will have is the much wider buffer gap (around 530MHz) between the highest commercial C-band range for 5G and the lowest C-band range. used by aircraft equipment. The other categories, which are 5G and mmWave low-band networks, do not interfere with aviation frequencies at all.

It is expected that India will likely open mmWave frequencies later for 5G networks, but not in the first phase of the rollout.