NASA, NOAA, and the Navy Tell The FCC Its 5G Plan Will Harm Weather Forecasting

from the ill-communication dept

The Ajit Pai FCC has pissed off yet another subset of the population still reliant on factual data.

Scientists and researchers at NASA, NOAA, and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) have been warning that the wireless industry’s use of select bands for 5G could interfere with transmissions of weather-satellite imagery. In a letter (pdf) sent to the FCC last month, warning that the industry’s plan to use 24GHz band could severely hamper weather forecasting. The FCC recently auctioned off spectrum in this band for private companies, but a growing roster of scientists say precautions weren’t taken first:

“NOAA and NASA have conducted studies that show interference in passive collection at the 23.6-24 GHz band from the adjacent 5G band (24.25 GHz); as such it is expected that interference will result in a partial-to-complete loss of remotely sensed water-vapor measurements. It is also expected that impacts will be concentrated in urban areas of the United States first.”

More plainly, water vapor emits radiation at 23.8GHz. Both the NOAA and NASA say monitoring these vapors won’t be possible if the neighboring band is too noisy. Things like hurricane forecasts, they say, could take up to two to three days longer if adequate protections aren’t put in place. There’s far more detail in this recent article in Nature, where academics note that while far more scientific study is needed, the interference potential here is a very real threat.

AT&T and other industry players recently gobbled up spectrum in the band at auction, and have an obvious vested interest in getting the spectrum in place quickly as they look to cash in on fifth generation wireless (5G). This being Ajit Pai, his response to the concerns has been to tell the NOAA, NASA, Navy, and AMS that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Senators have since pressed Pai to provide insight into exactly what his agency did to mitigate the potential harm:

“Explain and provide supporting documentation related to the FCC’s public interest analysis, including any cost-bene?t analysis, on the FCC’s emissions limit. In particular, explain how the FCC addressed the costs to taxpayers from the loss of billions of dollars of investment in weather-sensing satellites, the costs to public safety and national security, and to the nation’s commercial activities that rely on this critical weather data.”

As if on cue, representatives of the “American Consumer Institute” (a non-profit pretending to be a consumer advocacy firm but actually backed by big telecom companies) has been pushing editorials trying to claim the problem doesn’t actually exist either, and that the Navy, AMS, NASA, and NOAA are all somehow suffering from some form of scientific delusion. Meanwhile a separate but similar controversy has emerged over the FCC’s plan for the 1675-1680MHz band. There too the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society (AMS), Boeing, Accuweather, and National Weather Association (NWA) have all been warning the FCC that its spectrum sharing plan for that band could also cause forecasting problems.

It’s yet another example of the discord created when you have a regulatory agency driven by ideology, alternative facts, and a blind fealty to big companies involved in overseeing issues that require nuance, objectivity, and at least a fleeting regard for science and data.

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Comments on “NASA, NOAA, and the Navy Tell The FCC Its 5G Plan Will Harm Weather Forecasting”

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58 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If it means stopping those bastards from seeding the atmosphere with aluminum sulfides and barrium and God knows what else.. and boiling the ionosphere with HAARP and stopping them from dumping crap in the earth’s oceans and bodies of fresh water from their tanker spraying jets then go 5g.. you go NOW.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Pai said that "the assumptions that clearly underlay that study were so flawed as to make the study, in our view at least, meaningless. I mean all it had was those pesky, fact things, and they were mixed in with the scientific data that explained why there would be a problem.

I mean there was no cash flow analysis showing how the money would go from Carrier A to my pocket, or from Carrier B to my wallet. There were no appeals to irrelevant anecdotes ("think of the children" or a "war on weather") to glom onto and repeat endlessly.

Based on my standards, I think you can all see why this study was so flawed ("It didn’t say what we wanted it to say" basically, so it’s "bad data" for our purposes and we will just continue to repeat that no matter what).

Now all your bases are belonging to us… muahahaha

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

What we’re missing is the long term plan the telcoms are putting into play here.
They want to get 5G up and rolling, and screw up forecasting.
They want more super storms to wipe out their copper lines & the FCC to give them a pass on having to rebuild.
They they will have everyone on cellular data & be able to rake in more profits than every before.

Whats a few more dead people when corporate profits are at stake?

I mean its not like there are rules that make sure landlines can still function during power outages for a period of time & that locating a landline when someone calls for help is much easier than hoping the cellphone can ping the GPS satellite through the 5G haze…

Anonymous Coward says:

While NASA, the Nava and NOAA have completely ligitmite arguments in the science arena: to they have a crediable reason to believe 5G device will actually be deployed in proximity to weather sensors (I mean: do they have credible evidence that teleco will … build? ).

Of course that’s not a reason to ignore their agument, but it’s probably the most credible defense Pai could raise

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

to they have a crediable reason to believe 5G device will actually be deployed in proximity to weather sensors

They’ll have to build anywhere there’s a large group of customers, so cities and suburban areas WILL be saturated. That means you’ll only get useful data from sensors in areas that the phone companies don’t care about – the most rural of rural areas. But you need sensor data in inhabited areas, too. After all, that’s where the weather will have the greatest affect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, not at all. Ground-based sensors are useful but they don’t tell the whole picture, not even a significant portion of it. Satellite-based sensors provide a much broader view of weather systems and can help parse weather patterns for longer-range forecasting. Longer than a few hours that you’re lucky to get from ground-based sensor data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’d combine the two. Space-based sensors would still work in the rural areas without 5G, and ground-based forecasting might be able to check the local atmosphere if the 5G towers aren’t broadcasting upward.

It may not be enough, and then there’s the cost of deployment (the FCC made a boatload of money from the spectrum auction but NASA and the NOAA didn’t).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

We don’t (or I don’t) know that losing a few days notice is the only way this can go. Maybe, instead, NASA and the NOAA are forced to spend some money to work around the interference. Maybe that amount is so ridiculous we should reject the 5G usage outright. One way or another, we definitely need a solution before letting the telcos create a public-safety problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Maybe, instead, NASA and the NOAA are forced to spend some money to work around the interference.

Because they are using a natural signal, the one generated by water vapour, they cannot do anything about interference, other that asking the interfering source to improve their system to avoid it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Because they are using a natural signal, the one generated by water vapour, they cannot do anything about interference

The point was that there are, in principle, other ways to measure water vapour. The question is whether any are practical. (If so, one expects the telcos would have mentioned it.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

What other ways are you suggesting or are you simply hoping it is possible?

Sure, one could fly a plane into the storm to take measurements like we have been doing for some time, and as pointed out in articles written on the subject, that could potentially cost two days of prior notice.

Since they want to roll out 5G yesterday we have no time to dream about some futuristic solution.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

to they have a crediable reason to believe 5G device will actually be deployed in proximity to weather sensors (I mean: do they have credible evidence that teleco will … build? ).

The sensors are up in orbit. It’s the proximity to what they’re sensing that’s the problem. The satellites measure the very faint amounts of radiation that water vapor emits in order to measure the vapor content of the air. What Pai wants is to put high-power emitters (5G) next to the low-power emitter (vapor) and say everything will be fine because techomagic. It’ll like trying to watch the flickering of a candle flame next to a car flashing its highbeams at you. Experts predict at least 77% data loss if Pai’s sellout goes through as planned.

And it doesn’t matter that 5G won’t be deployed absolutely everywhere. Hurricane prediction relies on being able to monitor what the weather’s doing on the land; weather systems that move west-to-east end up crossing and influencing the hurricane’s track.
Blind the monitors over the US, and it becomes irrelevant that nobody put 5G over the ocean.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Meanwhile a separate but similar controversy has emerged over the FCC’s plan for the 1675-1680MHz band.

For more information on that, that band is used to allow anyone with a receiver to get realtime weather data from the GOES weather satellite system. Aviation, shipping logistics, environmental monitoring, disaster response all rely on these systems. All they need to run is a power source.

The main company pushing for the auction is calling itself Ligado, and wants that adjacent spectrum to run 5g IoT devices. They claim, agaominst evidence, that "there’s no reason to be concerned" about interference with weather satellite transmissions.

While claiming there’s no risk of interference, they also claim that the interference isn’t their problem.

Ligado urged the FCC to make it clear that "non-federal users have no legal claim to continue to listen in on this spectrum."

"They are, quite simply, eavesdroppers—and are therefore not entitled to any protections licensees or even registrants might receive," Ligado said.

Ligado also argues that an Internet-based system could provide data to weather researchers "in a faster and more reliable way than they currently receive it."

Ignoring the "eavesdropping on public information" stupidity, an internet-based system is absolutely not a valid solution. How often does the internet go down during a major natural disaster?

Ligado was formerly known as "LightSquared," the company that bought spectrum adjacent to GPS, similarly swore that there would definitely be no interference, proceeded to cause interference, and blamed the problem on the GPS receivers for obeying physics.

Anonymous Coward says:

The ephemeral elephant in the room

If transmissions in the 23.6-24 GHz are subject to interference from a band separated by 0.25 GHz why didn’t NASA/NOAA secure a band from 23.35-24.25 GHz? Did they expect that the neighboring spectrum would remain unused forever?

Pai is a dick, for sure, and 5G is maybe the biggest boondoggle to come along in a generation but this seems like bad planning on NASA/NOAA’s part. Not something they’re known for. They also could have participated in the auction to lock down neighboring bands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

If NASA/NOAA/Navy’s use of their range of the spectrum conflicts with the proposed use of the 24.5 GHz range then it’s not a matter of misbehaving. This problem is built into the specs for use of both ranges. Either the specs need to change to eliminate the "bleed" or the parties involved need to secure more range to prevent the "bleed".

None of this has anything to do with your nifty strawman, champ, but a valiant effort nonetheless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

Technical detail: it’s not transmission that NASA/NOAA/Navy are concerned about it’s emissions.
The difference being transmissions are controlled (at the origin) by humans.
However we currently don’t have the ablity to control the emission frequency of water vapor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

Maybe because of power levels? It’s possible NASA/NOAA don’t need to stop all use of those frequencies, but only those at high power levels like 5G. Highly directional transmissions might be OK too. Traditionally it’s been the FCC’s role to avoid interfering with licensed users.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

You don’t get "directional" any more than a streetlight is directional.

But NOAA says if the FCC were to just tighten limits on out-of-band leakage from the currently-required -20dB to -50dB, the problem would pretty much disappear. But that would cut into telco profits just too much for Pai’s liking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

You don’t get "directional" any more than a streetlight is directional.

[Citation needed]

There’s nothing to prevent a satellite from directing its transmission at a specific ground-based location, particularly with modern technology. What makes you think "you don’t get directional"?

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The ephemeral elephant in the room

I was referring to the 5G transmitters, not the satellites. Specifically, Ajit Pai’s technologically ignorant excuse:

For example, it ignores the fact that 5G will involve beamforming, essentially adaptive antenna arrays that will more precisely send 5G signals—sort of a rifle shot, if you will, instead of a shotgun blast of 5G spectrum.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The ephemeral elephant in the room

It’s possible NASA/NOAA don’t need to stop all use of those frequencies,

Those are the frequencies emitted by water vapour, and by measuring the emissions, satellite sensors can measure the water vapour in the atmosphere. If NSA/NOAA cannot use those frequencies because of interference, they cannot measure water vapour in the atmosphere, and weather forecasting becomes less accurate.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'It's just a little wind and rain, what's the big deal?'

Things like hurricane forecasts, they say, could take up to two to three days longer if adequate protections aren’t put in place.

No worries, I mean it’s not like hurricanes are capable of massive levels of destruction and high potential for death, and a few days could be the difference between being able to evacuate an area so only property is destroyed versus not having enough warning leading do significant loss of life.

I gotta say, I’m almost impressed, albeit for all the wrong reasons. I’ve known Pai was an asshole with a complete indifference to the public and serving it for years now, but to raise that to the level of ignoring experts on a matter that could literally be the difference between life and death for thousands or tens of thousands of people because listening to them might impact telco profits…

I didn’t think it was possible for my view of him to get any lower, but it would seem he went above and beyond in proving me wrong.

ECA (profile) says:

MW bandwidth

Microwave bandwidth starts..
100mhz low power..
Ends
100ghz..
And they want to be in the upper end of this???

ANYONE?? want to place a device near their heads that is sending a Signal in EVERY DIRECTION…from 23-25ghz??
Do you want children??
Do you want a head ache for the next 6 months??

https://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/2003-allochrt.pdf

NOPE, I aint going there…

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