Will 5G Affect Aircraft Instruments?

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We discuss the following topics in this blog:

  1. Are 5G Smartphones A Looming Threat in Aircraft?
  2. How 5G Devices on Aircraft are a Cause of Concern?
  3. Uncertainty and Concern Related to 5G and Aircrafts

In addition to these topics, we shall also be answering the following FAQs:

  1. What is an Optical Fibre Cable?
  2. What is WiFi?
Will 5G Affect Aircraft Instruments

Overview

The 5G revolution is all set to hit the telecommunication sector with a bang. This fifth generation of cellular networks is empowered to bring forth new and critical capabilities in network architecture. There is much more to 5G than merely improving your network connection. It’s bound to create massive opportunities for businesses, society, and even the people at large, all set to deliver ground-breaking solutions.

Are 5G Smartphones A Looming Threat in Aircrafts?

While 5G networks are to set the stage for more engaging education, business solutions, and immersive entertainment with sensory experiences, the French Civil Aviation Authority DGAC has warned that the latest generation of 5G smartphones could interfere with and affect aircraft instruments.

The French Agency, in one of its agency reports released in February 2021, warned that passengers on a flight with 5G devices should completely turn off their devices or put them on ‘airplane mode,’ as these devices have the potential to compromise flight safety mechanisms by interfering with aircraft’s altitude instruments. These altimeters are critical to the landing of aircrafts, and the use of 5G phones and instruments on board could lead to potential errors in altitude readings, which measure how close an aircraft flies to the ground level. Sounds scary? It sure is.

Even the representatives from the AIA (Aerospace Industries Association), Aviation Spectrum Resource, GAMA (General Aviation Manufacturers Association), the Airline & Helicopter Pilots Association, Collins Aerospace, and the International Air Transport Association in USA, recently met with FCC, US to voice their concerns and contemplate any changes.

How 5G Devices on Aircrafts are a Cause of Concern?

5G services use various spectrum bands, with the 5G frequency band plans being much more complex. 5G will include all existing cellular spectrum and will also extend to a large amount in the sub-6 GHz range spectrum. An additional spectrum will always be required due to physical limitations associated with the current bandwidth and throughput of 4G networks.

5G connectivity networks use a much higher frequency of radio waves in the range of 3 to 300GHz. At the same time, such a high frequency makes it possible for multiple devices to connect in real-time and faster than 4G. However, these waves require more masts at ground level to carry signals as they travel shorter distances. 

Thus, plans to use the 5G spectrum for networks are sparking concern among aviation safety experts. They are of the opinion that it could cause signal interference with critical aircraft electronics. In the worst-case scenario, it could affect altimeter readings and could even lead to a plane crash!

Uncertainty and Concern Related to 5G and Aircrafts

Many flights require their passengers and the crew staff to turn off their mobile phones while onboard or keep them in ‘airplane mode’, at least while landing and take-off of the plane. Recently, with the French Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA) issuing a bulletin regarding concerns about 5G devices on the flight, as they can cause errors in instruments critical to aircraft landing, mass uncertainty and concern is brewing up in the international aviation agencies.

The French authority DGAC has even issued guidance in case an aircraft’s equipment disrupts from the usage of a 5G device onboard: the aircrew needs to immediately notify ATCs or the air traffic controllers, with an alert to airport authorities. The DGAC has already issued guidelines for a restricted positioning of 5G base stations at airports to limit the risks of signal interference during flight landing at the French airports.

FAQs

What is an Optical Fibre Cable?

“An optical fibre cable is a cable type that has a few to hundreds of optical fibres bundled together within a protective plastic coating. They help carry digital data in the form of light pulses across large distances at faster speeds. For this, they need to be installed or deployed either underground or aerially. Standalone fibres cannot be buried or hanged so fibres are bunched together as cables for the transmission of data. This is done to protect the fibre from stress, moisture, temperature changes and other externalities.

There are three main components of a optical fibre cable, core (It carries the light and is made of pure silicon dioxide (SiO2) with dopants such as germania, phosphorous pentoxide, or alumina to raise the refractive index; Typical glass cores range from as small as 3.7um up to 200um), Cladding (Cladding surrounds the core and has a lower refractive index than the core, it is also made from the same material as the core; 1% refractive index difference is maintained between the core and cladding; Two commonly used diameters are 125µm and 140µm) and Coating (Protective layer that absorbs shocks, physical damage and moisture; The outside diameter of the coating is typically either 250µm or 500µm; Commonly used material for coatings are acrylate,Silicone, carbon, and polyimide).

An optical fibre cable is made up of the following components: Optical fibres – ranging from one to many. Buffer tubes (with different settings), for protection and cushioning of the fibre. Water protection in the tubes – wet or dry. A central strength member (CSM) is the backbone of all cables. Armoured tapes for stranding to bunch the buffer tubes and strength members together. Sheathing or final covering to provide further protection.

The five main reasons that make this technology innovation disruptive are fast communication speed, infinite bandwidth & capacity, low interference, high tensile strength and secure communication. The major usescases of optical fibre cables include intenet connectivity, computer networking, surgery & dentistry, automotive industry, telephony, lighting & decorations, mechanical inspections, cable television, military applications and space.”

What is WiFi?

“Put simply, WiFi is a technology that uses radio waves to create a wireless network through which devices like mobile phones, computers, printers, etc., connect to the internet. A wireless router is needed to establish a WiFi hotspot that people in its vicinity may use to access internet services. You’re sure to have encountered such a WiFi hotspot in houses, offices, restaurants, etc.

To get a little more technical, WiFi works by enabling a Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN that allows devices connected to it to exchange signals with the internet via a router. The frequencies of these signals are either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bandwidths. These frequencies are much higher than those transmitted to or by radios, mobile phones, and televisions since WiFi signals need to carry significantly higher amounts of data. The networking standards are variants of 802.11, of which there are several (802.11a, 802.11b, 801.11g, etc.).”

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