The move to upgrade cellphone towers to a 5G network has been unfairly accused of a lot of things. 5G has been blamed for everything from international espionage to some more bizarre conspiracy theories, however there is a new concern that pilots and the aviation industry is raising.
A new report has suggested that the 5G bandwidth may interfere with aircraft instruments. In a chilling verdict the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) said interference with equipment could lead to "catastrophic failures" and loss of life.
The report by the RTCA said the frequency is alarmingly close to radio bands being used by aircraft, and may "introduce harmful radio frequency (RF) interference to radar altimeters".
The current broadcast frequency for 5G is 3.7– to 3.98 GHz, which sits very close to the bands used by aircraft to read the height and topography of the landscape before them - at 4.2– to 4.4 GHz.
However, in the US the frequencies up to 4.2GHz are being be auctioned off to telecoms providers for use in the new 5G network.
"The results presented in this report reveal a major risk that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7– to 3.98-GHz band will cause harmful interference to radar altimeters on all types of civil aircraft—including commercial transport airplanes," reads the report.
After conducing research into tolerance levels of aircraft instruments and "spurious emissions" from radio equipment that could be clogging up the frequencies relied on for aircraft safety.
The report warned of a potential for "catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations."
RTCA is an independent safety body. Set up in April, the action group was founded specifically to look into potential conflict between the new broadcast frequencies and aircraft operations.
Headed by Terry McVenes, former Director of System Safety and Regulatory Affairs at Boeing, he said the white paper was compiled to "ensure that safety-critical aviation systems will continue to be protected for the purposes of public safety."
In New Zealand, Radio Spectrum Management which licences frequencies for MBIE says "5G is anticipated to significantly improve data speed and capacity for conventional mobile and fixed wireless broadband networks, as well as providing opportunities for new emerging markets."
In New Zealand MBIE has granted three providers use of the 5G frequencies between 3.59 and 3.75 GHz, below the frequencies used by aircraft or upper US 5G bands.
New Zealand consumer advice from 5G provider Vodafone says its network has followed the highest national and international safety standards, "which are based on decades of research and get reviewed by experts on a regular and consistent basis."
A response from the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum - whose members include the country's main mobile networks - says the report on based on US research should not be of concern to New Zealand air traffic.
There is a "substantial buffer of approximately 0.4 GHz between these bands" said a spokesperson for the NZTF.
"The NZ telecommunications industry is committed to working with the aviation industry to address and resolve any interference concerns that may arise in the future."