Our latest Think Paper, the 17th in a series of thought-provoking studies, assesses how spectrum-efficient aviation is right now, and asks whether Europe could struggle with 5G interference issues like the US now or in the future.
We take a look at the challenges facing this increasingly scarce resource that is both safety-critical to aviation, and business-critical to telecoms – two industries that play a huge role in powering the global economy. We emphasise that policymakers need to balance the conflicting demands of these two similarly-sized sectors, each contributing +4% to global GDP and used by 4-5 billion people each year, especially when auctioning high-value spectrum in or near frequency bands currently assigned to low-power users like aviation.
We find that while the impact of widespread 5G deployment is likely to be less in Europe compared to the US based on current 5G plans, there are no grounds for complacency. Radio spectrum is a highly sought-after, scarce resource with rival spectrum users posing a growing risk of interference. Aviation must act now to improve how it uses its precious spectrum to avoid costly problems in the years ahead – yet current aviation business models inherently fail at creating incentives for doing this. We argue for urgent coordinated efforts to modernise aviation communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) systems and prevent the channel saturation that will make it difficult to transition to more modern, capable systems.
To mitigate spectrum interference in the short term, we propose three practical mitigation strategies:
- enhancing adjacent band filtering as much as possible;
- improving aviation equipment standards maintenance for legacy systems; and
- getting the balance right between coordinated deployments of new CNS radio systems, including ‘settling for less’ if this aids global implementation.
And in the medium term, we suggest ways in which policymakers could help aviation improve its use of spectrum and avoid operational problems on the scale of the ones encountered in the US.