Scientific American - April 2019
The U.S. government has begun auctioning off blocks of wireless radio frequencies to be used for the next-generation communications network known as 5G. But some of these frequencies lie close to those that satellites use for crucial Earth observations—and meteorologists are worried that 5G transmissions could interfere with their data collection.
Unless regulators or telecommunications companies take steps to reduce the risk of interference, Earth-observing satellites flying over areas of the United States with 5G wireless coverage won’t be able to detect concentrations of water vapour in the atmosphere accurately. Meteorologists in the United States and other countries rely on those data to feed into their models; without that information, weather forecasts worldwide are likely to suffer.
“This is a global problem,” says Jordan Gerth, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA are currently locked in a high-stakes negotiation with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees U.S. wireless networks. NOAA and NASA have asked the FCC to work with them to protect frequencies used for Earth observations from interference as 5G rolls out. But the FCC auctioned off the first chunk of the 5G spectrum with minimal protection. The sale ended on 17 April and reaped nearly U.S.$2 billion. ...
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