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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Feel the burn from 5G

11 October 2021

5G communications is the future, or so we're told.

By harnessing the extra bandwidth available on higher frequencies and filling in the many gaps between existing allocated parts of the RF spectrum, 5G technology is going to change the world... apparently.

Super-fast downloads, ubiquitous and seamless connectivity, lower cost and better accessibility -- these are just some of the benefits we will be reaping from this latest evolution of our communications technologies.

However, the latest reports indicate that this may not be without its problems.

No, I'm not talking about the zombification of the general population as a result of the mind-eating effects of "5G radiation".

I'm talking about the way that 5G has the potential to interfere with existing, sometimes very important services that operate on nearby frequencies.

This report out of Canada gives a hint as to the problems that may be just around the corner.

Apparently some 5G equipment can interfere with crucial air navigation technologies used by commercial aircraft.

The radio altimeters potentially affected by 5G are a sort of radar system that bounces a signal off the ground to accurately measure an aircraft's height above that ground to an accuracy unavailable by other means. Barometric and GPS-based altimeters only give an altitude with reference to sea-level but radio-altimeters give a true indication of height AGL (above ground level).

Strangely enough, even though the portion of the 5G allocation involved is almost a full 1GHz away from the 4.2-4.4GHz used by these radio altimeters, there is concern that there may be interference.

Another case where 5G may cause issues with navigational equipment is in the USA where Ligado Networks has been allocated a chunk of spectrum between 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz. There are concerns that this could clobber the very weak signals received from GPS satellites and thus cause issues for a wide range of industries.

The real problem is that the "useful" RF spectrum is a finite resource and increasing demands are being made for its use. Although improving technology allows more data to be squeezed into smaller slices of that spectrum there are very real limits as to how far we can go right now. As a result, the airwaves are becoming very, very crowded -- to the extent that we can expect to see more "collisions" and interference between legally licensed systems.

The irony is that although 5G was implemented with the goal of getting more out of less, it is in fact becoming a major headache for other services operating on nearby frequencies.

I wonder where we go from here?

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