A summit in Egypt will determine the future of 5G and weather forecasts

Heated negotiations are starting this week in Egypt that can determine the future of 5G and weather forecast. More than 3,000 delegates from almost every country in the world are expected to resolve an ongoing turf war over highly-rated radio frequency bands used by meteorologists and coveted by mobile companies. It all goes down at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where guidelines for the disputed frequencies are set.


Prominent scientists have already raised the alarm about the debut of 5G wireless networks, which promise customers higher internet speeds. The concern is that the rollout could unintentionally throw away weather forecast, they say, because 5G networks are planning to use a frequency band that is very close to that which satellites use to observe water vapor. This interference can cost lives and fortunes when it comes to preparing for disastrous weather conditions.

Mobile service providers make many large claims when it comes to 5G, the next-generation mobile broadband. Previous generations of mobile wireless technology, such as 4G and LTE, operate at lower radio frequencies. But it gets busy there. To achieve super-fast speeds, 5G must be able to operate at frequencies higher than the existing 4G and LTE. One of those frequency bands is just above 24 GHz. But just below 24 GHz is the frequency with which water vapor molecules emit a little bit of a radio signal, and that makes it so valuable for scientists studying it again. They are concerned that 5G may be a noisy neighbor unintentionally leaking signals in adjacent bands, which could disrupt their ability to control water vapor. Studying water vapor is important to predict the trajectory of storms, to predict sunny weather or rain and to monitor the changing climate.

"We don't want to be painted in any way as anti 5G, we just want everyone to be good neighbors," said Stephen English, a meteorologist at the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in the UK. "We want to reach a good agreement (in Egypt) where everyone can perform the services he wants to perform without intervention or problems from his neighbors."

To prevent 5G from interfering with predictions, English and other scientists have insisted on strict noise limits that 5G devices may generate outside the 24GHz channel. But the US Federal Communications Commission has proposed much less strict limits, although concern about the potential threats to science and public safety has increased since the FCC decided in March to auction that part of the radio spectrum. The FCC issues licenses to entities using the airwaves in the United States, and under Ajit Pai's chairman, auctioning high-band radio spectrum licenses has a priority as part of the goal to maintain US leadership in 5G technology.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is in charge in May Neil Jacobs told Congress that the interference limits proposed by the FCC can reverse 40 years of weather forecasting and cause satellites to lose nearly 80 percent of the data they can now collect. The resulting inaccuracy can have real consequences for people in the field. "If you cannot accurately make that prediction, you will ultimately not evacuate the right people and / or evacuate people who do not need to evacuate, which is a problem," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told Congress in April.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, wrote two letters to the FCC in September and October demanding that the agency provide the scientific analysis behind his decision to propose weaker interference limits set. The FCC has yet to respond to its requests. "I have to assume that the FCC has no scientifically substantiated evidence to support its position," Johnson said in a October 23 pronunciation. The FCC did not respond to a request for comment from The edge.


The United States will express its position to allow more lax limits to the conference in Egypt, where international guidelines will be formalized. The meeting is convened every three or four years by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union to review and revise radio regulations. When the summit began, President Trump addressed a letter to the Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union, saying: "We intend to work with like-minded countries to promote security in all aspects of 5G networks worldwide. "

The negotiations start on Monday, October 28 and run until November 22. It will also address the growing demand for radio spectrum that provides internet connections "Moving goals" such as planes and ships. The last conference in 2015 was marked with heavy debates on which frequencies should be reserved for drones.

"It is always a very difficult meeting. You can imagine walking all night, the next day, & # 39; The edge. But unlike earlier conferences, many regional players are negotiating with established positions this year. The Inter-American Telecommunications Commission, which includes the United States and 34 other countries on the American continent, has proposed emission limit values ‚Äč‚Äčthat are closer to the FCC proposal than the much stricter limits that the meteorological community is looking for. So the outlook in Egypt so far is bleak for those hoping for stronger protection against the possible interference that 5G could cause for weather forecasts. "I am not very optimistic about a good result," Engels says.

In addition to everything at stake when it comes to 24 GHz, the decision coming from Egypt can also set a precedent for other valued frequencies as the radio spectrum becomes busier. "This is not one and is done at 24 GHz. We can have similar discussions about a few other important bands," says Jordan Gerth, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. That's because satellites use different high-frequency bands to do things. such as clouds and air temperature.

But even if less stringent interference limits are adopted in Egypt, the worst scenarios that meteorologists are concerned about will not come about immediately. 5G has not yet been widely applied because the technology and infrastructure to deliver on its promises are not yet available. But that technology is slowly being built up and there are more developments on the horizon. "In the future we have 6G, we will have all kinds of people chasing a spectrum," Engels says. That is why experts attach great importance to this 5G decision in Egypt. The outcome of this struggle, the English says, will be an early signal of how many world leaders value science and could show whether they will be willing to protect their science in the future.