The Altimeter Games: More news of the weird from D.C. — Entner

Roger Entner

The U.S. airline industry signed onto a letter expressing its great concern about the 5G C-Band rollout affecting “safe and efficient aviation operations in the United States.” The letter is signed by IATA, NACA, The Boeing Company, the Air Line Pilots Association International and many more companies and associations from the aeronautics field.

The airline industry wants to prevent the launch of the first phase of C-Band rollout, which is in the 3.7 to 3.8 GHz spectrum, claiming that it is concerned the C-Band operations will interfere with airplane altimeters. The letter makes it sound like only America is deploying on C-band and this alleged interference issue is uniquely an American concern.

In fact, we know that in 40 countries around the world, 5G networks are already operating on C-Band frequencies up to 3.8 GHz. The FAA Administrator testified before Congress recently that there have been no problems.

So why the airlines’ efforts to delay rollout of 5G networks here in the U.S.? If the problem is as dire as they allege, why have the airlines and aeronautics manufacturers not grounded planes in the 40 countries where this C-Band spectrum is already in use?

One would think a signature company like Boeing (which has had its own series of preventable plane crashes because it chose not to disclose critical safety problems to airline safety authorities around the world) would be proactively working with aviation regulators in all 40 countries to ground its planes. But that’s not happening.

So why are the U.S.-based airlines that signed the letter still flying into and out of these other countries? Furthermore, why is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EUASA), the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau and all the other international air safety authorities not more concerned? Perhaps the alleged concerns are merely a smokescreen for something else?

Recall that Boeing filed during the C-Band proceedings and argued that the FCC should have a 100 MHz guard band between C-Band and the 4.20-4.4 GHz band where aviation altimeters operate. The FCC not only listened to Boeing but exceeded Boeing’s recommendation and created a 220 MHz guard band to protect aviation from any C-band interference. The C-Band spectrum that Boeing and friends are trying to prevent from being deployed sits at 3.7 to 3.8 GHz, a full 400 MHz away, four times the separation Boeing has told the FCC was needed.

Other countries, like Japan, have allowed C-Band deployments with only a 100 MHz guard band, consistent with Boeing’s original recommendation. In the U.K., the 3.8 GHz to 4.2 GHz band has been released to enterprises to build their own private 5G networks. Why is Boeing and the Air Line Pilots Association not publishing warnings about those deployments interfering with altimeters?

Either the FAA, Boeing and the U.S. airline industry are callously playing with people’s lives or the problems they describe are illusory. Either way, the Biden Administration needs to force the FAA and the FCC to work out their differences and remove roadblocks to getting 5G broadband built out and made available to more small businesses, more schools, libraries, homes, health centers, farms and more without risking anyone’s life.

Roger Entner is the founder and analyst at Recon Analytics. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Heriot-Watt University. Recon Analytics specializes in fact-based research and the analysis of disparate data sources to provide unprecedented insights into the world of telecommunications. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerentner and catch him on The Week with Roger podcast.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.