As noise from billions of smartphones fills the sky more and more, federal agencies are competing with each other over radio waves to help predict climate change.
On the one hand are NOAA and NASA. They developed space satellites that can passively capture and decode weak energy signals emitted by changes in water vapor, temperature, rain and wind, which determine future weather patterns.
They are supported by weather and geoscientists who say that the signal is threatened by 5G, which is an emerging “fifth generation” wireless communication device that can generate enough electronic noise on the radio spectrum to reduce prediction skills and distort prediction progress The required computer model. climate change.
On the other hand are wireless communication companies, smartphone manufacturers, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the use of the radio spectrum. The FCC has begun to take a series of measures to allow companies to “share” the spectrum used by federal science-related agencies to adapt to the rapid growth of 5G.
Since the former chairman of the FCC Tom Wheeler (Tom Wheeler) initiated a policy called “Spectrum Frontiers” in 2016 to promote the development of 5G, the FCC has been supporting 5G. “In the 5G world, the Internet of Everything will be fully realized,” he asserted. “Everything that can be connected will be connected.”
He told reporters that creating more space for billions of smartphones and other 5G devices is “very important”, “because it means that American companies will go out the door first.”
In 2019, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee questioned two studies prepared by NOAA and NASA that predicted that the FCC’s eagerness to auction space on radio frequencies would destroy the weather data needed for forecasting. The then FCC chairman Ajit Pai responded that there was no evidence of potential interference and the auction was conducted.
The committee leader asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a review. The report released last month stated that the demand for spectrum space is “exponentially increasing” and by 2025, there may be 25 to 50 billion devices competing for space.
It said that the debate between US agencies on the issue of weather and climate prediction is “very controversial.” According to GAO, the FCC seeks support from the Trump White House. Despite the lack of consensus, the weaker rules of the FCC’s spectrum frontier plan have become the position of the United States.
It was then adopted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) based in Geneva, Switzerland. It writes global rules.
The GAO report stated that officials from NOAA and NASA are concerned that at the next ITU meeting scheduled for 2023, they will continue to promote the expansion of loose rules for weather-related spectrum sharing.
“These data are absolutely vital,” explained William Mahoney III, deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the heads of the science-related institutions involved in the dispute.
In an interview, he explained that the biggest problem involved a spectrum called 24 GHz, which is used by meteorological satellites to monitor natural microwave signals generated by different levels of water vapor in the atmosphere. The equipment they use is a microwave radiometer.
“This is one of nature’s gifts,” Mahoney said, because signals from the presence of different water vapor allow satellites to explore the weather formed in different layers of the atmosphere. “Currently one-third of the forecasting skills come from these data,” he added, noting that data captured by orbiting satellites can “differentiate a clear sky from a tornado day.”
But the signals generated by water vapor and other natural weather characteristics become weaker and weaker in the noisy wave of telephone signals. “If you have a large cell phone tower network that transmits more orders of magnitude power closer to the ground, some of it will be reflected upwards and part of the atmosphere will become very noisy,” Mahoney said.
The risk of losing data is high.
“This is not a problem that scholars or researchers cannot access the data set, but that there is no necessary information to protect lives and property,” Mahoney told members of the House Science Committee.
He added that accurate weather data is necessary for agriculture, aviation, water management, monitoring wildfires and managing energy production, as well as US defense agencies.
The second spectrum of 16 MHz connects satellites with signals from various automatic meters used in the United States to measure water levels and wind speeds in streams and rivers. Mahoney explained in the interview that satellites collect signals and send the resulting data to the National Weather Service and private weather reporting companies, which are also worried about the “noise level” rising.
Steven Root, chairman of the American Weather and Climate Industry Association, wrote to the committee that interference caused by shared frequency bands “will seriously threaten the distribution of important weather information for AWCIA members such as AccuWeather, UNISYS Weather, and WeatherBank, Inc. , That is, the country relies on the highest quality information to respond immediately to dangerous weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires.”
Another expert witness told the House of Representatives panel that if rising noise levels lead to errors or undetected gaps in weather data, there will be the most “concealed” impact of rising noise levels on the weather spectrum. Incorrect data may be contained in computer models that scientists use to predict future climate behavior.
David Lubar, head of the Aerospace Corporation’s spectrum issues program, explained that there is a new technology that can detect “contaminated” data. The company is a non-profit organization established by Congress to provide technical advice for the space program.
Lubar said that institutions working on this technology lack funds to develop it and deploy it on new satellites. “I am very happy to hold this hearing to review these issues,” he told the panel.
It is not clear where the FCC’s next frontier spectrum policy on 5G will go. According to the House Science Committee, it has obtained nearly $2 billion in 24 GHz band space from 29 successful bidders.
An FCC spokesperson said that the agency “is now focused on building strong relationships with its federal partners and reviving the inter-agency coordination process in order to once again create results for American consumers and the economy.”
He said that better coordination between these agencies ultimately means more spectrum and more innovation to help restore America’s wireless leadership. “We look forward to working with other federal agencies to review GAO’s recommendations.”
In a Congress that is deeply divided on many issues, the House Science Committee seems to have reached a bipartisan consensus that there is more work to be done among federal agencies before international radio spectrum regulations can be formulated.
“This [GAO] The report clearly pointed out that the existing procedures were flawed and emphasized some cases where coordination failed. We cannot let this happen again. Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the top Republican of the group, said.
The Chairman of the Science Committee and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said in a statement to E&E News that “there is still a need to improve the inter-agency process for spectrum auctions.”
She said that “the FCC must-at least-apply globally set standards to protect domestic science and our diplomatic status,” adding that her team will work to “ensure that we use scientific evidence to protect our country’s critical services.”
forward from Electronics News With permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.