5G and aviation

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Facts about 5G and aviation in Canada

There have been media reports of concerns in the United States regarding the potential for interference between radiofrequencies used for 5G and the operation of aircraft radio altimeters.

The following sets out the facts regarding the situation in Canada:

  • Radio altimeters are instruments used in aircraft to measure distance from the ground (altitude). They are authorized to operate in the 4200-4400 MHz spectrum band.
  • Recent media reports in the United States relate to spectrum being used for 5G in the 3700 to 3980 MHz frequency band (within the so-called C-Band). This band is currently not authorized for use with cellular services in Canada.
  • In Canada, cellular services have been authorized to operate in the 3450-3650 MHz range (also referred to as the 3500 MHz band). This means that the 3500 MHz band is separated by at least 550 MHz from the frequencies used by altimeters, thus providing ample separation.
  • This “buffer zone” is twice the amount of separation provided by the C-Band used in the United States. It is also over 100 MHz more separation than in Europe, which uses the 3400-3800 MHz range of the C-Band for 5G services.
  • Internationally, C-Band spectrum is already being used in nearly 40 countries and hundreds of thousands of 5G base stations with no reported incidents impacting aviation. This includes, for example, Japan, where the separation is only 100 MHz.
  • The 3500MHz band has been safely used in Canada for years for fixed wireless communications.
  • Recent statements from regulators around the world have confirmed the lack of reported incidents of interference from C-Band spectrum impacting aircraft radio altimeters:

    • UK regulator Ofcom: “We can’t comment on how airwaves are allocated by authorities in other countries. But in the UK, 5G and other mobile services have been used in airwaves alongside altimeters for some years with no reported cases of interference in UK airspace.” 
      See statement here.

    • Norway’s Telecom Regulator (January 2022): “The 5G networks now being developed in Norway and Europe use lower frequencies than in the US and other parts of the world. The frequencies we use have a greater distance from those used in the altimeters in aircraft, and we therefore do not have the same problem”. In addition, it also states: “authorities are not aware on reported interference from 5G to the altimeters, and 5G deployment has been ongoing for several years in Europe and the rest of the world. In Japan where they currently use frequencies closest to the altimeters, tens of thousands of 5G base stations have been taken in use. As far as Nkom is aware, no interference has been reported there”. 
      Full statement here.

    • U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (May 2023 Bulletin): “There have not yet been proven reports of harmful interference due to wireless broadband operations internationally, although this issue is continuing to be studied. In the United States, there has been wireless broadband deployment in the 3.65-3.7 GHz band since 2007. The FCC started a proceeding to authorize mobile broadband service in the 3.55-3.7 GHz band in December 2012 and adopted final rules in April 2015 and October 2018. Commercial deployment started in September 2019, with no known issues for altimeters to date.” 
      Full statement here.

    • European Union Aviation Safety Agency (oversees civil aviation in 31 EU countries): “The technical data received from EU manufacturers offers no conclusive evidence for immediate safety concerns at this time… EASA is not aware of any in-service incidents caused by 5G interference.” 
      See quotes here.

    • German Federal Telecom Regulator (January 2022): underlines how measurements carried out in France and Norway “have shown that there has been no concrete influence on the instruments so far”. 
      Reports here.

  • Notwithstanding the absence of any reported instances of interference in other countries and the larger separation between the 3500 MHz band and the frequencies used by altimeters, the Government of Canada has, out of an abundance of caution, imposed restrictions regarding the use of 3500 MHz spectrum in the vicinity of airports, as well as requirements regarding the positioning of antennas across the country (see: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/sf11747.html).
  • The government has indicated that these rules may be amended pending further study and testing.
  • Canada’s wireless industry continues to work with the government and aviation industry to further study this issue and ensure that any rules regarding the use of spectrum are evidence-based.