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When countries scramble to build a 5G network, the U.S. threatens weather forecast accuracy will drop by 30%

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Imagine in the future, downloading a movie in less than one second, a 4K movie in 25 seconds or playing several online 4K videos smoothly on your phone. This seemingly unimaginable internet speed, 5G can make it! However, are you willing to swap accurate weather forecast for it?

5G era is approaching, seriously affecting the U.S. weather forecast

Fifth Generation Wireless Technology, or 5G, can transfer 10 Gigabytes data to mobile phones per second, the speed is 600 times faster than the existing 4G network. The U.S. planned to launch a brand-new 5G network system in 2020 but is now facing some opposing opinions. “5G network will reduce the weather forecast accuracy by 30%,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting chief Neil Jacobs warned, “this is a step backward to 40 years ago.”

Relevant impact includes hurricane prediction. Due to the forecast delay, coastal residents will have less time for preparation. Or it may lead to false predictions of hurricane landing paths. This is undeniably a serious impact on the U.S., which has been hit by hurricanes all year round.

Meteorological observing satellites, receiving electromagnetic wave signal of water vapor

This year March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned 24GHz bandwidth to wireless operators. FCC does have the freedom to auction and allocate bandwidth to operators but auctioning specific frequency bands will cause troubles for weather forecasts.

Jordan Gerth, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, stated the weak electromagnetic wave signal emitted by water vapor in the atmosphere is 23.8GHz, which is very close to the frequency (24GHz) 5G networks are using. Therefore, this will affect the collection of data of meteorological satellites, such as NOAA’s GOES-R or MetOp of Europe. These interfered data will be used to predict meteorological disasters and weather.

Not only water vapor is affected. Atmospheric data of sleet (36-37 GHz), atmospheric temperature (50.2-50.4 GHz) and cloud and ice (80-90 GHz) can also be collected through electromagnetic waves. But of all discovered electromagnetic waves, those can be used to develop wireless communications are relatively fewer. Therefore, those frequency bands associated with weather observations may be auctioned for 5G applications in the coming future.

The similar signal frequency of 5G is affecting satellite

NOAA and NASA estimated the frequency band auction will lose up to 77% of detector data. NOAA acting chief Jacobs added that as long as data loss reaches 2%, the US$11 billion Arctic satellite program have to stop operating. The U.S. Navy also claimed that the loss of weather- and ocean-related wireless electromagnetic wave data will reduce the mastery and strategic advantage, thereby pose threats to military defense.

Countries negotiate bandwidth usage so as to achieve win-win

Continuously relying on auctioning 5G bandwidth to operators, the FCC has earned US$2 billion. Two senators wrote to FCC chairman to request for a pause on using 24GHz bandwidth until a solution is found and postpone other bandwidth auction. Operators can reduce the power of 5G mobile phone transmitters to minimize interference with meteorological satellites.

The U.S. is currently negotiating with other countries about the disruption level of a 5G network in hope to meet the level which is accepted by the European Union and the World Meteorological Organization and is expected to reach consensus at the October Radiocommunication Conference.

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