In what must rank as one of the most poorly researched mainstream news stories in recent times, Newshub last night told us on their 6pm news that Vodafone's soon to launch 5G network could cause problems for NIWA (New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) who might not be able to accurately predict weather because of potential interference with weather satellites.
The story was full of emotive sentences and paragraphs -
"Vodafone's 5G network concerns New Zealand meteorologists who say it could put lives at risk"
"New Zealand meteorologists are warning the new 5G phone network could affect their predictions - and put lives at risk."
"We do need to have very accurate forecasts if we want to give people the kind of heads up they need to make decisions to evacuate and things like that," says Nava Fedaeff from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)."
"NIWA's forecasters are among a global cohort of scientists who are worried the frequency used by 5G will disturb the frequency used by one of the most important weather satellites. Essentially when the satellite looks down it's looking for water vapour, and it might pick up 5G instead, so there's interference," Fedaeff told Newshub."
"Mere months before the 5G rollout begins - and the next big storm rolls in."
The headlines and story as a whole can be summed up with one response.
It's FUD. Fake news. Scaremongering. Lies. Call it what you want - it is simply not true.
Earlier in 2019 media outlets around the world went crazy republishing a story warning of potential risk to weather forecasting with the introduction of 5G networks due to a frequency band that will be used for 5G networks in the future. Their claim was that use of this band for 5G networks could cause interference with weather satellites that detect water vapour in the atmosphere, something that's critical for accurate weather forecasting.
It's pretty clear neither Newshub nor NIWA bothered to fact check by asking anybody with even a basic understanding of radio spectrum (or technology as a whole) before running with this story.
5G networks will operate on multiple frequency bands, but the specific frequency band being used in New Zealand by Vodafone at launch has absolutely no ability to cause any of the issues that Newshub and NIWA are warning us of.
It should not be my job to educate a Crown Research Institute or media outlet about basics of technology, but since they're clearly unable to research the facts I figured somebody had to put it out there in a format hopefully the average person will understand so that they’re realise that weather forecasts are not going to be impacted by 5G in New Zealand.
Let’s start with with a very simple summary..
Vodafone's 5G network in New Zealand simply will NOT cause interference with weather forecasting. Not today, not tomorrow, not next year. Never. Ever. Period.
So why would people think it could?
Water vapour in the atmosphere can be detected from satellites in space due to the distinct signature it creates. Satellites with microwave sounders scan the surface of the earth looking for microwave radiation that is generated by water vapour in the atmposhere at a specific frequency.
Water vapour emits radiation at precisely 23.8 GHz, which can be detected by these satellites allowing the creation of weather maps which help in the creation of weather forecasts. To cause interference with the water vapour detection, a transmitter on the ground would need to be broadcasting exactly on this 23.8 GHz frequency to cause intererence.
Broadcasting on a frequency nearby will not cause any interference. It would need to be something very powerful using that exact frequency. There is nothing that currently uses this frequency in New Zealand, and due to the known risk of interfererence, there will never be anything that will use that frequency in New Zealand.
Here in New Zealand radio spectrum is managed by RSM (Radio Spectrum Management), part of MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) who are responsible for the licencing of radio spectrum in New Zealand, and ensuring that licence holders comply with their licence regulations.
Vodafone New Zealand's 5G network that launches in December 2019 will be deployed in the 3.5 GHz band using 2 x 22 MHz blocks of paired spectrum that Vodafone acquired from TelstraClear when they purchased the company. This will allow them to run 2 x 20 MHz carriers in non contiguous blocks of spectrum in what is known as the n78 5G band.
This block of 3.5 GHz spectrum has remained unused by Vodafone since they purchased TelstraClear in 2012. In other parts of the 3.5GHz band a number of WiMAX networks still exist in New Zealand that actively use this frequency band.
So it's pretty clear that the 5G network Vodafone are launching in December simply cannot cause interference with weather satellites. The 3.5 GHz frequency band they are using is nowhere near the 23.8 GHz frequency used to detect water vapour in the atmosphere.
But what about the future?
It's true that around the world the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands are key frequencies for 5G networks in what is known as mmWave (millimetre wave) bands. These frequencies are much higher than those used by existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks, and are what allow 5G to deliver Gigabit speeds because the amount of free spectrum in these blocks is simply not available in lower frequencies.
Here in New Zealand and around the world the 24 GHz frequency band is already used pretty extensively, and has been for a number of years. It cannot be used for 5G in New Zealand until existing management rights in that band expire.
24.0 GHz - 24.025 GHz is what is known as an ISM band (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) and is controlled globally by ITU Radio Regulations. Like 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies that also use ISM bands, this block of spectrum can legally be used by anybody without the requirement for licencing across a large number of countries in the world. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of wireless links in New Zealand that use this block of spectrum.
Between 24.55 GHz and 25.39 GHz Vodafone and Kordia have management rights that allow them to use this spectrum for microwave links, with literally hundreds of these links used across New Zealand linking cellsites together. Management rights for this band expire in a few years, and it's probable that this block of spectrum will then be auctioned off for 5G networks in New Zealand by RSM.
There is no disputing that Interference at 23.8 GHz does have a theoretical potential to cause issues with water vapour detection from space, so like many countries in the world, the block of spectrum between 23.6 GHz and 24 GHz is reserved and can never be used in New Zealand. It is not used for existing microwave links and it will never be used for 5G.
Only frequencies above 24.55GHz will be used for 5G, and 5G networks in this frequency block will not interfere with a signal at 23.8GHz
Quite simply there is no chance of Vodafone's 5G network, nor any other 5G network in New Zealand having the ability to create havoc with water vapour detection from satellites impact any weather forecasting in New Zealand. The critical 23.8GHz frequency will not be used for 5G networks in New Zealand at any point in the future.
The fact that NIWA were willing to front on national TV spreading misinformation concerns me. In an Crown Research Institute full of scientists was there not a single person who could have explained any of this and discredited the misinformation rather than fronting of TV and continuing to perpetuate a false claim? Why did Newshub not bother to fact check their claim by checking with a radio engineer or RSM about the frequency allocations before they ran with the story?
Long gone are the good old days when Mark Jennings ran a newsroom lead the way with quality news rather than fake news.
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