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Senators call for 5G slowdown because weatherman won’t be accurate

tropical hurricane approaching the USA.Elements of this image are furnished by NASA.

Two US Senators have asked President Trump and the FCC to halt spectrum usage on the 24 GHz spectrum brands as it would decrease the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Democrat Senators Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Maria Cantwell (Washington) have jointly penned a letter for the Oval Office suggesting use of the 24 GHz spectrum brands should be blocked as it would interfere with the accuracy of weather forecasts. The pair claim accuracy of these forecasts could be impact by as much as 30%, similar to the guesswork offered in the 1980s.

“American advancement in 5G networks and devices is critically important to maintaining global leadership,” said Wyden. “It’s just as imperative, however, for our nation to do 5G right. If the FCC continues advocating for standards that fail to pass scientific scrutiny, their decision will lower America’s standing in this global race for 5G leadership and risk serious damage to our economy and national security.”

Although linking weather forecasts back to national security might cause some to scoff, the pair suggest this insight is used by the navy, military and coast guard to help plan operations. Some of these operations’ focus on warning and preparedness when it comes to dealing with tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons.

“Millions of Americans live in areas under increasing threat from hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events,” said Cantwell. “The US military and our aviation, maritime, and numerous other industries rely on accurate forecasting information every day to ensure safety and make crucial decisions.

“We can’t afford to undermine our data and set the quality of weather forecasting back to the 1970s. Instead of overruling or ignoring the experts, the FCC and the administration should look at the science, listen to experts, and take the time needed to get this right.”

While the Senators are seemingly jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to generate PR inches, the concerns of the use of these frequencies have dated back to 2010. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine put forward a report in 2010 suggesting 30% of the data collected on the 23.8-gigahertz signal would eliminate 30% of all useful data, making a significant impact on the ability to forecast conditions accurately.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have now completed an investigation, which is yet to be made public, on the effects of interference from usage in neighbouring frequency bands.

Water vapour in the atmosphere emit very faint signal which is used by probes to monitor energy radiating from Earth at this frequency. This data offers insight to humidity in the atmosphere below helping to predict how storms and other weather systems will develop over the short- and medium-term future. The 23.8 GHz frequency is used to measure water vapour, 36-37 GHz for rain and snow, 50.2-50.4 GHz for atmospheric pressure and 86-92 GHz for clouds and ice.

During the most recent spectrum auction, the FCC sold licences for frequencies in the 24.25-24.45 GHz and 24.75-25.25 GHz but set noise limits on the 5G network of –20 decibel watts. The FCC might suggest this is protection enough, however the European Commission put limits of –42 decibel watts for 5G base stations, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is recommending –55 decibel watts.

While the two Senators are not necessarily complaining about the limits, the pair are asking the FCC to clarify a few different notes:

  • Provide details on investigations that support the FCC’s assumptions that emission limits will not negatively impact applications in adjacent frequency bands
  • Provide details on the FCC’s public interest analysis, including any cost-benefit analysis, which addresses the loss of investments made in weather-sensing satellites, the costs to public safety and national security, and to the nation’s commercial activities that rely on weather data
  • Plans if the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) does not accept the emissions limits in the 24 GHz band
  • How the FCC addressed the concerns of the NOAA, NASA and other bodies

It does appear the Senators are looking for a stick to swing as opposed to any specific objections. That said, these are some valid concerns.

Numerous businesses and industries rely on accurate weather forecast, not to mention the security and safety of US citizens. In Europe, we are not at the mercy of some severe weather conditions, or not to the degree the US is. You only have to look at the $65 billion in damages caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017 or the 3,000 lives claimed during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to understand the importance.

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