New 5G network could jam weather satellites

The roll-out of 5G mobile networks could have a big impact on weather forecasters’ ability to predict major weather events.

Weather satellites use certain radio frequency bands in the electromagnetic spectrum to monitor water vapour in the atmosphere, but bands near these frequencies may also be used by 5G networks.

In particular the concern regards the 26 GHz band (between 24.25 GHz to 27.5 GHz) which is being sold internationally as part of the 5G spectrum.

Ofcom in the UK is considering putting this band to auction in the future.

Image: Certain radio frequencies used by satellites to measure the weather will be used by 5G

The auction will see the communications regulator offer a private company the chance to buy the exclusive right to communicate using those frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

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However, the potential 5G band is very close to the 23.8 GHz frequency which is emitted by water vapour.

It is radio signals at this frequency which meteorological satellites use to track weather patterns – and the 5G signal could potentially interfere with this data collection.

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Jim Dale, senior meteorologist British Weather Services, has called it an “international concern” and told Sky News: “It’s a bit like crowded skies – there are a lot satellites in the sky all doing different jobs.

Jim Dale said it was an 'international concern'
Image: Jim Dale said it was an ‘international concern’

“Weather satellites and 5G happen to be potentially sharing a very, very similar frequency and therefore there will be a potential conflict, and this conflict is likely to affect one or the other.

Mr Dale says it’s not a problem yet because 5G is yet to be rolled out, but the issue needs to be resolved before it is.

He said: “Weather knows no boundaries. We’ve got to work together and compromise.”

“This is something that definitely needs not just the weather people but the 5G people to get together and make sure the conflict does not happen.”

Ofcom and other national regulators will meet to discuss these uses of the spectrum at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) later this year.

The WRC is an event held every four years to discuss amendments to the international treaties which regulate how states use the spectrum.

Among the topics that will be discussed are bands of “no-use” spectrum between sensitive frequencies such as the 23.8 GHz frequency emitted by water vapour and nearby bands which could interfere with those signals.

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