5G networks using a set of radio waves called ‘C-band spectrum’ operate safely in nearly 40 countries around the world without causing harmful interference to air traffic.
On January 19th, 2022, wireless providers in the United States launched 5G in the C-band following an agreement developed with the FCC, FAA, aviation industry, and the White House.
This agreement includes the broadest and most stringent protection for air traffic anywhere in the world.
There is a lot of confusion about 5G, air traffic, and safety. These are the facts.
Nearly 40 Countries Already Use 5G in the C-Band—With No Impact on Aviation
U.S. Has World’s Greatest Protection for Air Traffic
Here are the facts about 5G, C-band, and aviation operations.
How do we know that it is safe for 5G networks to use C-band spectrum?
Nearly 40 countries are already safely using these and similar radio waves for 5G and other wireless services, at similar power levels. There is no evidence whatsoever of harmful interference with aviation equipment. In fact, the radio waves used in the United States are the same distance from aviation operations, and at authorized power levels lower than France, Spain, Denmark, Romania, Ireland, and Finland. These countries have operated 5G in the C-band for several years without harmful interference to air traffic.
In addition, in the United States, signals from military radar systems have for decades used similar radio waves for operations that are 10,000x more powerful than C-band 5G without causing harmful interference. Likewise, federal ground-to-air systems operate even closer to aviation equipment than C-band 5G will be.
Finally, the Federal Communications Commission—the independent government agency responsible for reviewing the evidence and establishing rules that prevent interference—studied this issue for three years, including submissions by the aviation industry and coordination with federal partners, and adopted a substantial protective barrier that separates 5G C-band signals from aviation signals. This separation is more than twice the size of the separation used in networks that exist today in other countries and twice as large as the barrier requested by some aviation organizations in the FCC record. In fact, initial deployments in the U.S. will have even further separation—four times the amount as seen elsewhere in the world.
The FCC concluded that this separation, along with the technical rules it adopted, is “sufficient to protect aeronautical services” from 5G interference.
Some aviation groups and the FAA have argued that 5G in the C-band could cause harmful interference with aviation equipment. Is this true?
No. All available evidence—including existing 5G networks that use this spectrum in countries around the world and actual flight testing that was conducted on this very issue—show that 5G networks using these radio waves do not interfere with aviation equipment. In fact, the radio waves used in the United States are the same distance from aviation operations, and at authorized power levels lower than France, Spain, Denmark, Romania, Ireland, and Finland. These countries have operated 5G in the C-band for several years without harmful interference to air traffic.
What is your response to a study published by RTCA and promoted by aviation groups and the FAA, which claims 5G in the C-band could interfere with aviation equipment?
The study makes assertions that are not supported by any verifiable data and that are completely contradicted by safe, real-world deployments of 5G in the C-band in countries around the world. In addition, the report’s testing methodology is flawed. To cite one example, aviation equipment operating to manufacturer specifications that is already in use today would fail this test—even without 5G operating in the C-band. A full technical analysis that explains these flaws is available on our resources page.
Why is it important that 5G networks use C-band spectrum?
C-band spectrum is a set of radio waves, also called mid-band spectrum, that are uniquely suited for 5G networks. These radio waves allow 5G networks to deliver high speeds over a wide geographic area—making it possible to provide 5G services in communities across America.
A recent study by Boston Consulting Group estimated that 5G networks will add $1.5 trillion to America’s economy and create 4.5 million new jobs over the next decade, while enabling the development of a variety of new services such as driverless cars and remote healthcare that will transform the way we live and work. There is a limited amount of mid-band spectrum available to power 5G networks, and C-band spectrum is one of the few options available in the United States.
Delaying access to this spectrum has real impacts: every six-month delay in 5G deployment costs our nation’s economy $25 billion in economic benefits over the next decade, risks America’s competitiveness, and jeopardizes our ability to ensure global 5G leadership.
FROM THE EXPERTS
What the expert community tells us.
“This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans. Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine…” — President Joe Biden
“The ACMA considers that a 200 MHz guard band between [wireless broadband] and radio altimeters is sufficient.”— Australian Communications and Media Authority
“[E]ven though 5G has already been deployed in several States around the world, we are not aware of any reported occurrence that relates to possible interference originating from 5G base stations.” — European Union Aviation Safety Agency
“In the C-Band Order, the Commission concluded that our rules would protect radio altimeters used by aircraft, and we continue to have no reason to believe that 5G operations in the C-Band will cause harmful interference to radio altimeters.” — FCC Spokesman
“…[We] are providing a 220-megahertz guard band between new services in the lower C-band and radio altimeters and Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications services operating in the 4.2-4.4 GHz band. This is double the guard band supported in initial comments by Boeing and [Aviation Spectrum Resources, Inc.].” — FCC C-Band Order
“The technical rules on power and emission limits we set for the 3.7 GHz Service and the spectral separation of 220 megahertz should offer all due protection to services in the 4.2-4.4 GHz band.” — FCC C-Band Order
“[T]he RTCA study appears conservative compared with median expectations . . . Consequently, the ACMA considers that compatibility with radio altimeters can be successfully managed with [wireless broadband] services introduced up to 4000 MHz.” — Australian Communications and Media Authority