Close collaboration can provide a clear flight path for 5G and avionics

Co-existence between different technologies has long been the foundation of sound management of the radio spectrum – ensuring that citizens derive the maximum benefit from this resource. Since 1865, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been a focal point for the safe and effective co-existence between different technologies using spectrum. Over the decades, the mobile industry, including the GSMA, has been an integral participant in the work of the ITU and has always strived to ensure that mobile can grow alongside other technologies.

The 3.5 GHz “C-band” spectrum (globally 3.3 GHz-4.2 GHz) has emerged as the leading band for 5G worldwide. Today, more than 160 5G networks in 60 countries safely operate in this band. This did not happen in a vacuum. This range has been under development for mobile over the past 15 years and has been constantly studied at the ITU and by national governments during this period. Recently, however, some representatives of the civil aviation industry have raised the theoretical possibility of interference from 5G into avionic altimeters in neighbouring frequencies.

Mobile is a significant user of spectrum, and mobile operators understand the importance of being a good spectrum neighbour to other users, including aviation. In fact, our industry has a long and proven track record of working with national governments and international bodies to ensure co-existence. It is in our interest too. We therefore were not surprised by the willingness and ability of AT&T and Verizon to work in good faith with U.S. aviation interests to find a path forward that allows the U.S. to maintain a 5G leadership position with the launch of 3.5 GHz  5G services on January 19th.

Concerns over co-existence are unavoidable growing pains whenever a new and innovative network is about to launch, even those that have been under development and study for years. We therefore applaud the parties for finding a framework that puts American consumers first, agreeing to temporary conditions that ensure no further delay in the delivery of 5G.

While a commendable step forward, we would be remiss if we did not try to put this debate into perspective. It goes without saying that health and safety are absolute imperatives for the GSMA and its members, and of course for governments and regulators worldwide. Addressing these concerns, however, needs to be fact-based – and the fact is that 60 countries already have live 5G deployments in 3.5 GHz with no instances of interference between 5G and altimeters to date. The mobile community wants that to continue. In our opinion, the technical information that is being used to generate concern shows improbable worst-case scenarios.

Almost all countries using 3.5 GHz 5G do so without extra restrictions and thousands of flights take off and land safely in them every day. Only a few countries have implemented any additional measures to “protect” altimeters out of an abundance of caution.

The GSMA remains committed, as do our members, to collaborating with civil aviation to ensure that 5G and aviation continue to safely co-exist. We continue to monitor this situation closely and will work with national governments and international bodies to ensure that citizens around the world reap the maximum benefits of 5G.