Do 5G Networks Really Pose a Threat to Weather Forecasting?

Telecom Tech Outlook | Friday, September 27, 2019

Doubtlessly, 5G is the new wave in the coming generation. It is going to revolutionize almost every industry, especially the field of communication. But have you ever thought about the negative effects it can have? 

FREMONT, CA: There is an intense debate going on between scientists regarding the fifth-generation wireless disrupting the weather forecasts. 5G possesses the capacity as well as the speed to handle huge volumes of data to operate complex systems such as autonomous cars and of course, the completely wired Internet of Things (IoT). This wireless networking architecture is built on 802.11ac IEEE wireless networking standard, which aims at enhancing the speed of the data communication by three times its predecessor, 4G.

It is majorly designed for speeding up the data communication rate between WLANs (wireless local area network) up to 1.5 Gbps and cover a distance which is three times more than 802.11n. The beamforming technique enables the vast coverage area for 5G, in which wireless routers overlook paths, which are inefficient and then deliberately ignore them in the routing table.

The U.S. government has started auctioning off the blocks of wireless radio frequencies which will be utilized for 5G. However, the problem is that some of these frequencies are very close to those that are used by the satellites for crucial observations of the Earth. Hence, meteorologists are worried that 5G might disrupt their data collection.

The satellites observing the Earth will fail in the accurate detection of concentrations of water vapor in the atmosphere until and unless regulators or telecommunication systems will take steps to lessen the risk of disruption. Besides, the meteorologists of other nations, including the United States, depend on those data to install into their models. The unavailability of the information will make the weather forecasts worldwide suffer.

The meteorologists, astronomers, and other scientists have put great effort into sharing the spectrum with the other users, sometimes changing to different frequencies to avoid conflicts. However, this is the first time meteorologists are coming across such threat to frequencies, which they have to defend no matter what.

23.8 gigahertz is the frequency at which the water vapor present in the atmosphere emits a faint signal. However, the satellites monitoring the energy radiating from the Earth at this frequency can assess the humidity present in the atmosphere less than the measurements taken during the day or night time, even in the presence of the clouds. Forecasters install these data into the models in order to predict the development and the time duration of storms and other weather systems.

But, the same frequency transmitted by 5G station will generate a signal, which will be similar to water vapor. In this case, it will become difficult for the meteorologists to find if the signal is natural or will lead to the feeding of wrong data in the models resulting in inaccurate weather forecasts.

Radio-frequency engineers measure the noise in decibel watts. Controls are set by the regulators that allow only limited noise. The noise that is more in negative numbers signify increasingly stringent controls. The FCC auction has set the noise limit to 29-decibel watts on the U.S. 5G network. This amount of noise has surpassed the thresholds under the consideration of every country for their system. For example, the European Commission has set the noise limit on -42 decibel watts for 5G base stations and WMO (World meteorological organization) is proposing -55 decibel watts.

Many people hope that WMO numbers will make the regulators acquire strict global noise standards at the meeting held in Egypt. As a result of the way the scale is devised, the U.S. proposal would enable over 150 times more noise than the European proposal, which is more than 3,000 times more than the plan of WMO.

Moreover, the scientists have done little research on the condition of weather when the interference increases to 23.8 gigahertz, and other frequencies that are crucial for the observations of the Earth. The impact would be more significant if they lost more.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in its report of 2010 that 30 percent of the useful data will be eliminated in microwave frequencies if they lost access to the signal of 23.8 gigahertz. This would contribute hugely to global weather forecasts.

And without the atmospheric data of the U.S., the forecasts of Europe can be inaccurate as the weather patterns are steering by the atmospheric conditions over the U.S. prior 3-4 days.

The FCC is planning to begin the country’s largest next auction of 5G in December. It will comprise three more frequency bands, out of which some will be used for satellite observations of precipitation, clouds, and sea ice.

5G is surely going to transform the future. However, its side effects or warnings shouldn’t be ignored.