The U.S. government has begun auctioning blocks of wireless radio frequencies to be used for the next-generation communications network – 5G technology. But scientists say that some of these frequencies lie close to those that satellites use for crucial Earth observations—and meteorologists are worried that 5G transmissions could interfere with their data collection.

This is a global problem – Jordan Gerth, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

The dispute between the US government departments and the mobile-phone industry over 5G technology use has been kept private for several months, but the issue was made public in Congressional testimony on 22 May. Acting NOAA head Neil Jacobs asserted that potential interference from 5G networks could reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts by up to 30%. That loss would leave predictions no better than they were in 1980, Jacobs added, and it would give coastal residents two to three days fewer to prepare for impending hurricanes.

Recently FCC auctioned spectrum in the 24GHz band under controversial circumstances. Experts and scientists from other federal agencies warned that cellular transmissions in that band might significantly reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts.

As NASA and NOAA scientists are worried that sensors won’t be able to pick up these weak signals because of interference from 5G. Ajit Pai, the Chairman of FFC on the other hand, stressed that the 5G spectrum is separated from the passive weather sensors by over 250MHz. The FCC’s proposed emission limits the spectrum that is appropriate for the protection of passive weather sensors, he claimed.

Jacobs told Congress that the “Department of Commerce supports 5G,” and that he is “optimistic that we can come up with a solution where passive microwave sensing and 5G can coexist.”

Meanwhile, forecasters express concern that the growth of 5G could threaten other spectrum bands. Gerth says that current debates may emerge around the use of 36-37 GHz, which is utilized to spot rain and snow or 50 GHz that detects atmospheric temperature.

The US administration is in a hurry to roll out 5G speed and hence is overlooking a lot of the groundwork needed to carry out the FCC’s critical decisions.

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