5G networks could wreak havoc on weather forecasting, officials warn

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief says 5G interference could result in less accurate predictions for hurricanes.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
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Forecasters say interference from 5G radios in the 24 GHz band could reduce the accuracy of predicting the intensity and path of major hurricanes by 30%.

NASA/Getty Images

That speedier 5G network wireless carriers are promising to build could interfere with the accuracy of weather forecasts.

For months, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been sounding the alarm that wireless spectrum the Federal Communications Commission is auctioning off to use for 5G wireless networks could interfere with data collection used in weather forecasting.

On Thursday, NOAA's acting chief Neil Jacobs testified on Capitol Hill that the interference from new 5G wireless radios could reduce the accuracy of weather forecasting by as much as 30 percent. He told the House Subcommittee on the Environment this would result in coastal residents getting at least two to three fewer days to prepare for a hurricane and could lead to less accurate predictions about where these major storms will make landfall. Such errors in these predictions could cost people their lives, he warned.

The FCC began auctioning off the 24 GHz spectrum in March to wireless carriers who plan to use it for new 5G networks. Earlier this week, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell of Washington wrote a letter to the FCC asking that the agency refrain from issuing the licenses to auction winners until a solution can be found.

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The problem comes from the use of spectrum in the 24 gigahertz frequency band, which is very close to a spectrum band that NOAA uses to collect data for weather prediction. NOAA uses the 23.8 GHz spectrum to collect data about atmospheric conditions that's then fed into its data model. The concern is that 5G radios carriers use in the 24 GHz band will interfere with these sensitive sensors on satellites monitoring the atmospheric conditions.

Turning down the power emitted by 5G wireless radios could help prevent some of this interference. But Jacobs pointed out that the current proposal from the FCC would result in a 77 percent loss in data from the NOAA satellite sensors. He said experts from the FCC and NOAA are collaborating to come up with a solution, and he noted he was optimistic a solution will be found.

The FCC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

There are other frequency bands the FCC is looking to auction off that could also be problematic for forecasters. The FCC also plans to auction off spectrum near bands NOAA uses to detect other weather conditions like snow and ice as well as other atmospheric conditions.