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The deployment of 5G in the US is disrupting flights from India

REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier
Taking off (can’t).
  • Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Reporter based in New Delhi.

Published Last updated

The deployment of 5G in the US has forced Air India to curtail operations to that country. The airline yesterday (Jan. 18) tweeted details of the affected flights from India to various airports there.

Experts have been raising concerns over the possible interference of 5G with aviation electronics. Plane makers Boeing and Airbus had in December warned the US government about the bandwidth’s impact on aircraft safety. Air India officials, on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu newspaper the issue was a “serious” one.

There are around 16 non-stop flights operating between India and the US, most of them by Air India; others include those of United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and American Airlines.

Air India flies to New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington DC, and San Francisco.

Why 5G is causing trouble for airlines?

It’s been a while since leading airlines in the US warned of the “catastrophic” impact of 5G deployment on aviation. Airlines have expressed fears of the new C-band 5G service, to be launched today, likely rendering a significant number of aircraft unusable.

C-band is a middle-ground airwave between low-band 5G frequencies and high-band millimeter-wave 5G. It promises download speeds up to 10 times faster than the most advanced 4G connections, with enough range that a network of cell towers could realistically cover an entire city.

The aviation industry, however, worries about interference with crucial aircraft instruments like altimeters, which measure how far above the ground an aeroplane is travelling.

Verizon and AT&T, two companies that are set to deploy C-band, have said that the technology has been deployed in at least 50 nations without interference issues. They have also agreed to set up buffer zones around 50 airports in the US for at least six months to reduce interference risks.

Will India face similar issues?

5G spectrum hasn’t even gone for auction yet in India.

Even after rollout, it’ll take some time to be widely adopted given the price sensitivity of Indian consumers. Experts say that even believe brands like Reliance Jio—expected to launch its own 5G network this year—will find it tough to address the matter.

“…It remains to be seen how the brand will launch affordable 5G phones in 2022. Until Jio is able to augment its chip supplies at scale and work its way around the chip shortage, it will be tough for the brand to address affordability over the short term,” Prabhu Ram, head at market analysis firm, Industry Intelligence Group, had earlier told Quartz.

India today has around 790 million 4G subscribers.

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