It is becoming increasingly clear that the wireless industry is trying the idea of fast 5G wireless networks before the technology is actually ready. It is a race and the race is nonsense. But until today we had not realized that people's lives are also at stake.
As reported by The Washington Post and CNET, the heads of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warn that the problem could reduce the world's weather forecast capabilities by forty years – reducing our ability to evacuate the path of deadly hurricanes and the amount of time available to evacuate to predict.
That's because one of the most important wireless frequencies reserved for fast 5G millimeter networks – the 24 GHz band – happens to be very close to the frequencies used by microwave satellites to detect water vapor and to detect changes in the weather. They have the potential to interfere. And according to the testimony of NASA and NOAA, they can interfere in such a way that it delays preparation for extreme weather conditions.
Acting last week NOAA chief Dr. Neil Jacobs told the subcommittee on the environment Based on the current 5G deployment plan, our satellites would lose about 77 percent of the data they currently collect, reducing our predictive power by as much as 30 percent.
"If you look back in time to see when our predictive skills were 30 percent less than today, then it is somewhere around 1980. This would result in a reduction in the predicted delivery time of hurricanes by about 2 to 3 days," he said.
If we hadn't had that information, Jacobs added, we couldn't have predicted that the deadly hurricane Sandy would strike. A European study showed that with 77 percent less data, the model would have predicted that the storm would remain at sea instead of landing. Jacobs later said that we currently have no other technologies to passively observe water vapor and to make more accurate predictions.
On April 19, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made similar comments to the House Science Committee. "That part of the electromagnetic spectrum is needed to make predictions about where a hurricane will cause the supply," he told the committee. "If you cannot make that prediction accurately, then you will ultimately not evacuate the right people and / or evacuate people who do not need to be evacuated, which is a problem."
None of this should be a surprise to the industry or the FCC, as experts have been discussing this issue for years in the build-up to 5G. In fact, recent versions of the 5G NR specification of the 3GPP specific have a carveout to protect satellite weather services by reducing the emission levels of neighboring 5G signals between 24.25 and 27.5 GHz. (It is under "184.108.40.206.2 Additional emission requirements for NS_201," when you start searching.)
But the NOAA states that those emission requirements are not enough – it will lose those critical data unless they are further squeezed. "I am optimistic that we can come up with an elegant solution where passive microwave detection and 5G can co-exist," Jacobs said.
The FCC has certainly been warned: Space News reported that NASA & Bridenstine and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on February 28 to discuss protection – a few weeks before the FCC started auctioning the 24 GHz spectrum on March 14 – but that Pai the invitation rejected and claimed that there was no "technical basis for an objection."
Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to Pai on 13 May so good: "To continue on the path the FCC is currently on, to continue to ignore the serious alarms from the scientific community, this could lead to dangerous consequences for US national security, US industry and American people, "she warned Pai and asked Pai not to grant final 24 GHz licenses or allow carriers to operate in the 24 GHz band until it could protect satellite readings in the way NASA and NOAA believe they should be protected .
And earlier this week, the wireless industry trade association CTIA tried to spot these requests as fake news publish an argument about how the claims of the scientific community led to a 13-year-old weather sensor that was never actually used. That was quickly refuted by meteorologist Jordan Gerth, who on Twitter indicated that another 23.8 GHz sensor, the JPSS, replaced it:
Dear @CTIA, I would like to introduce you to the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), a real instrument in flight now with a detection band at 23.8 GHz. Of course, NPOESS has been canceled, but JPSS is the backbone of space perception in the US. #FactsMatter https://t.co/uQ5UozWSiw
– Jordan Gerth (@jjgerth) May 22, 2019
We have not yet seen the study ourselves to confirm whether the CTIA is correct that the study was based on the older sensor and whether the new one would make a difference, but a CTIA spokesperson argues that the newer sensor is less sensitive to 5G signal interference.
For now, you will have to decide whether you are more inclined to trust heads of two respected scientific institutions, or the groups that benefit from rolling out 5G as quickly as possible.