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.

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, in some of these countries, 5G signals use radio waves that are much closer to those used by aviation equipment without causing harmful interference. 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 wasn’t this resolved sooner?

International agencies studied the use of C-band spectrum for 5G networks for more than 17 years. In the United States, 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. In January 2021 the FCC finished auctioning this spectrum to wireless providers. The FAA’s first notice to the aviation community requesting data on altimeters was in November 2021, less than one month before wireless providers were originally scheduled to launch this service.

To accommodate the FAA, wireless providers delayed this launch twice, for a combined total of six weeks, launching on January 19th.

Why did the wireless industry agree to these additional protections?

To give the FAA and aviation industry additional time to evaluate altimeter performance with 5G, wireless providers agreed to a voluntary set of temporary measures—including buffers around airports—in addition to the restrictions the FCC had already put in place after years of extensive study. The transition period will end in July, and the wireless industry remains committed to being a good partner with the FAA and aviation community as we look forward to robust 5G services nationwide and safe flights as we see all around the world today.

How do protections offered by the wireless industry compare to those around the world?

The United States has the most stringent protections for aviation operations in the world. The U.S. launched 5G in spectrum that is the same distance from aviation operations, and at authorized power levels lower than in France, Spain, Denmark, Romania, Ireland, and Finland. In fact, of the 40 countries that operate 5G in the C-band, the U.S. is one of only a handful that have any precautionary protections for aviation operations at all—and all of these countries have operated 5G in the C-band for several years without harmful interference to aviation operations.

In spite of extensive real-world evidence and built-in U.S. protections, the wireless industry agreed to a range of additional protections to give the FAA and aviation industry additional time to evaluate altimeter performance with 5G, including:

  • Buffer zones around numerous airports. 5G will not be deployed within these zones. These zones are larger and more numerous than in any other country.
  • Nationwide limits on power projected to the sky. The U.S. is the only country with such a limit.
  • No deployments near public use heliports. The U.S. is the only country with nationwide protections for heliports.
The wireless industry deployed 5G in the C-band with additional protections beyond what the FCC required. What are those protections?

The United States launched 5G in spectrum which is the same distance from aviation operations, and at authorized power levels which are 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 aviation operations.

To give the FAA and aviation industry additional time to evaluate altimeter performance with 5G the wireless industry agreed to a range of additional protections including:

  • Buffer zones around numerous airports. 5G will not be deployed within these zones. These zones are larger and more numerous than in any other country.
  • Nationwide limits on power projected to the sky. The U.S. is the only country with such a limit.
  • No deployments near public use heliports. The U.S. is the only country with nationwide protections for heliports.