Award Winning Blog

Friday, November 5, 2021

Making Sense Out of the FAA’s Power Play on 5G

           With growing frustration, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has failed to get traction on its concerns about the potential for harmful interference between newly activated 5G spectrum, at 3.7 – 3.98 GigaHertz, and mission critical aviation applications that use spectrum higher up in the C-band.  The squabble persists, despite an FCC decision to create an additional 20 MegaHertz “Guard Band,” in addition to the already established 200 MHz of spectrum, that must remain fallow, unavailable for use by any 5G wireless carrier, no matter how far subscribers would be from an airport, or known flight paths. See

Upset that neither the Executive Branch, nor the FCC would consider the matter seriously, the FAA has played its trump card: ordering aviators not to use existing flight management applications that operate via C-band spectrum presumed by the FCC to be well protected from any prospect for interference.  Wireless carriers have responded by offering to postpone for one month activation of the expensive and now controversial spectrum.  See, e.g.,

At this point, few if anyone, can conclude whether the FAA is falsely claiming the “sky is falling.”  However, no one wants to end up on the wrong side of an aviation disaster including the wireless carriers that have spent over $85 billion in auctions for newly “refarmed” C-band spectrum. 

Stakeholders forecast and speculate the prospects for interference, often with a bias, one way or the other.  For example, the lack of selectivity in cheap GPS receivers and cellphone chipsets, provided grounds for John Deere and other farming equipment manufacturers to oppose FCC efforts to abate an acute wireless spectrum shortage by authorizing market entry by ventures such as Legado, that proposed to use spectrum nearby, but also separated by an even larger Guard Band to protect GPS spectrum.   See, e.g.,

This remarkable debate has the potential to shave billions of dollars off the value of wireless carrier shares, call into question the certainty of dedicated spectrum reallocations costing billions of dollars, and perhaps even handicap the efficacy of U.S. wireless 5 and 6G initiatives at the International Telecommunication Union, the intergovernmental spectrum planning forum.

High stakes indeed.