During the past year there has been a great deal of concern and discussion around the use of 5G spectrum in the vicinity of airports. All eyes were on this topic, but the limited availability of spectrum in general is a topic for the future that can’t be overlooked. Safety-critical aviation connectivity relies on radio spectrum and can’t risk being limited or in line with possible interference from other bands of spectrum.

EUROCONTROL released a Think Paper during the summer looking at this topic and suggesting ways for aviation to improve its spectrum efficiency. The challenges put forth in the paper focused on the possibility of Europe facing the same 5G interference issues as the US, a look at how spectrum-efficient aviation is and what steps need to be taken by the industry players for improvements to happen.

We’ll touch on each of these topics, although the paper is quite lengthy, and we can’t address all of their research and outcomes in a short overview.

Is Europe heading for 5G trouble?

The short answer is no. This is because the European Commission plans to dedicate the band closest to radio altimeters to enterprise internal networks operating at lower power levels. Although this is good news in the short run, the whole debate about spectrum usage has raised concerns for the future as spectrum becomes more limited and new versions of mobile infrastructure are deployed.

At the upcoming ATCA Global event there is a session looking at this topic with representatives from the telecommunications industry – T-Mobile, Aviation Spectrum Resources (ASRI), the Airline Pilots Association and the Radio Technical Committee for Aeronautics (RTCA). This panel is looking ahead to consider how the telecommunications and aviation industries work together to ensure compatibility in the future. It's good to see these organisations coming to gather to prepare for future considerations.

Efficient or Not?

When compared to the telecommunications industry, the summary figures for aviation efficiency are not that far off from the communications providers. Where this becomes more challenging is at the user level as there are many more mobile subscribers in the world than there are CNS users. This translates to a comparison at the user/device levels shows working needing to be done by aviation.

There are also many factors that impact aviation’s ability to implement more efficient options to maintain their safety-critical level of support and work within their financial constraints. The recommendations from the EUROCONTROL report to try and more towards higher spectrum efficiency were as follows: maximising adjacent band filtering, maintaining standards in line with parts obsolescence cycles and not delaying the opportunity to migrate to newer CNS technologies.

The purpose of this synopsis is only to highlight the importance of this topic and remind readers that although the imminent 5G challenge in the US airspace has passed, this isn’t the end of the spectrum challenge.