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Telcos asked to halt 5G near airports over safety concerns, but experts say ‘don’t worry’

DoT says that 5G sites up to 2.1 km away from airports should be avoided at least till DGCA ensures tech upgrade. Experts, however, assert advanced tech is there to ensure safety.

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New Delhi: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has released an advisory asking telecom companies to halt 5G services near airport areas as they can interfere with aircraft operations, a concern ruled out by aviation experts.

According to the DoT, flight operations may get affected since 5G signals are likely to clash with the frequencies of radio altimeters, which allow pilots to understand height.

Letters sent to Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Airtel by the DoT stated Tuesday that 5G sites up to 2.1 km away from airports should be avoided for now, at least till the aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), ensures a tech upgrade.

Experts, however, say that there is no need to worry as aviation companies are deploying advanced technology to keep up with 5G installations across the world.

“I don’t think there is any risk involved as a similar argument had broken out in the US when they were setting up 5G towers. However, those fears were assuaged eventually since it was established that there is no risk to flight operations,” Parvez Damania, an aviation expert, told ThePrint.


Also Read: Only 5% mobile users in India ready to upgrade to 5G network by 2022, new survey finds


Halting 5G services near airports

The DoT’s advisory read that “measures (halting setting up of 5G base towers) shall be adopted by telecom service providers with immediate effect and would be applicable till the replacement of all aircraft radio altimeters filters is ensured by the DGCA”.

This means that places near airports, including parts of Dwarka and Vasant Kunj in New Delhi, and Juhu and Vile Parle in Mumbai, may not get 5G services till the matter is resolved.

The DoT has further advised the DGCA to ensure that aircraft altimeters are upgraded in order to facilitate a safer operating system. “DGCA is requested to inform DoT as soon as the task is complete to enable lifting of the restrictions,” the letter read.

Earlier this year, the DGCA had raised concerns pertaining to the interference of 5G signals with flight operations. The regulator flagged the issue around radio altimeters which are electronic devices capable of measuring the height of an aircraft.

The regulator had also said that altimeters and 5G telecom services operate in the same mid C-Band frequency.

According to reports, aviation companies will need time till at least August 2023 to upgrade the altimeters.

Paranoid about safety

A common thought among industry leaders on the DoT’s advisory is that the problem pertaining to the clashing of signals should have been factored in before a much-hyped inauguration of 5G services was done last month.

Arun Lohiya, Chief Operating Office of CAD Ventures, told ThePrint: “I am unable to understand why these things are coming up now, after a much-hyped inauguration. We are certified to fly over 180 countries around the world. It is the same pilot and same aircraft flying over countries with 5G services around.”

“This is a story not researched fully. The DGCA is paranoid about safety and we have issues with the development of technology. There is constant communication between the cockpit, air traffic control and ground control, and hence there is no radio silence,” he added.

Non-availability of 5G services in crucial areas will pose a problem, Lohiya pointed out.

“This dream of 5G is already being shattered by this controversy… Airports and railway stations are usually developing around or near the city. Do they mean to say the VVIP area of Juhu will not get 5G? Do you have walls in the air that will stop 5G from entering airspace? Will they put up barriers? People are unable to understand the actual impact,” he said.

A similar sentiment was reiterated by Damania, who believes that companies are equipped to deal with such safety concerns through advanced technology.

“Today, we have advanced technology that ensures safety, and flights are functioning across the world. The existing infrastructure will not deter any operations; as of now, new tower constructions around airports in cities may be stopped,” he said.

In January, the Federation of Indian Pilots had written to civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia stating that 5G services may potentially disrupt operations and that the DGCA should begin consultations with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the DoT.

‘Just an advisory’

Experts have also pointed out that the warning against 5G near airports has come in the form of an advisory and that unless there is a strong diktat by the DGCA, it does not hold the potential of a big impact.

“Since this is just an advisory, it does not hold (much) potential right now. In my opinion, the chances of interference are low. This concern was heavily debated upon in the US and the EU when their auctioned 5G frequencies were clashing with the signals of radio altimeters. But in India, that is not the case,” aviation expert Captain Amit Singh told ThePrint.

“There is no interference between the auctioned bands and radio altimeter signals. C-band in India operates at 3.3-3.67 Ghz, which is safer than the US’ 3.7-3.98 GHz,” he added.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)


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