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DOD Works to Prevent 5G C-Band Spectrum Interference; Alan Burke Quoted

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The Department of Defense (DOD) will work to prevent interference to aviation instruments, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to auction C-band spectrum used for 5G communication, Defense News reported on Thursday.

“The approach should be not on trying to slow down 5G metro deployment, but speeding up development and testing of mitigations that can serve as an interim gap until avionics manufacturers can harden their systems,” said Alan Burke, the Pentagon’s chair for the interagency Aviation Cyber Initiative Task Force.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) requested that the FCC pause the sale of the C-band spectrum in Dec. 2020, following findings that 5G operations could cause harmful interference to radar altimeters, which are used to measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground.

To combat the threat, the Pentagon will study how the deployment of 5G networks will impact military aircraft, then enact a strategy to mitigate any safety concerns. “The longer-term challenge is going to be making — not just radar altimeters — but avionics systems that are resilient to out-of-band interference,” Burke added.

"The FCC confronted a host of technical, legal, practical, and political challenges in structuring this auction,” outgoing FCC chairman Ajit Pai said. “It would have been easy to delay. But we rightly pushed ahead and overcame every one of those obstacles. As a result, we significantly advanced United States leadership in 5G and have enabled America’s wireless consumers to more quickly benefit from 5G services.”

As part of the 5G FAST Plan, the FCC has projected to sell more than 5,000 new flexible-use overlay licenses for C-band spectrum in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz frequency. The first phase of the auction received bids totaling $80.9 billion. 

“We’re working to establish a collaborative interagency approach,” Burke said. “And that includes [establishing] a national 5G operational test range. If we wanted to do operational testing of our radar altimeters in a 5G C band environment, we don’t have the capability to do that right now. And so that’s a shortfall that we want to work to address.”