The fifth-generation wireless technology or 5G, which is expected to connect at least 4 billion devices by 2024, will interfere with the validity and precision of weather forecasting, according to a study conducted by Rutgers University.
The wireless technology was already being criticised by meteorologists and this study has further fuelled the debate.
The study, released at the 2020 IEEE 5G World Forum, used computer modelling to study the repercussions of radiation “leakage” from 5G wireless networks. This leakage occurs whenever radiations from a transmitter encroach a neighbouring radio frequency band.
To understand the impact, researchers conducted a case study on the deadly Super Tuesday tornado outbreak of 2008 which affected the Southern United States and the lower Ohio Valley.
A simulation of the radiation leakage on the forecasting of this phenomenon showed that the 5G frequency bands could spill over the nearby frequency bands of weather satellites that convey the data.
The researchers found that the leakage in the buffer range of -15 to -20 decibel watts could shift the precipitation prediction by up to 0.9 mm. Moreover, the ground-level temperature forecasts could vary by 2.34°F (1.3°C).
“It can be argued that the magnitude of error found in our study is insignificant or significant, depending on whether you represent the 5G community or the meteorological community, respectively,” said Narayan B Mandayam, senior author of the study, a professor at Rutgers University.
“One of our takeaways is that if we want leakage to be at levels preferred by the 5G community, we need to work on more detailed models as well as antenna technology, dynamic reallocation of spectrum resources and improved weather forecasting algorithms that can take into account 5G leakage,” Mandayam added.
In November 2019, at a meeting held in Egypt by the International Telecommunication Union, there was an agreement to allow 5G to operate across four ranges of the frequency spectrum. This included the 24.25 to 27.5 GHz frequency band. This alarmed meteorologists as the frequency range lies close to the weather satellites that emit 24 GHz. So if a 5G transmission is around 24 GHz, weather satellites might interpret it as water vapour and thereby produce inaccurate data.
Meteorologists said the problem could be countered only if there was enough buffer between the 5G signals and the frequency band of the weather satellites. Although the WMO hoped for the biggest buffer, that is, of -55 decibel watts, the new standard was settled at -33 decibel watts until 2027 and -39 decibel watts post 2027.
So, companies rolling out the technology will be allowed to follow the regulations loosely until 2027. What this means is that the companies will build the networks now and adopt the strict safety measures only when the 5G transmissions get denser.
5G deployment began at the end of 2018, but the mainstream implementation of the technology is still underway and may go on for a few more years. But the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) thinks that 5G may roll out more quickly than what is expected, thus sabotaging the Earth observatories, due to poor regulations until 2027. WMO stated:
“The race for 5G is going to go fast. In the early-to-mid-2020s, we’re going to see a very quick uptick. I’m still really concerned about the time period between now and then,” the WMO said.
Meteorologists believe the potential impact of 5G interference will be felt across sectors including aviation, transport and agricultural meteorology. They fear that it can affect the warnings pertaining to extreme events caused due to climate change.
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