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Global 5G wireless deal threatens weather forecasts

Published: November 26, 2019
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Source: nature

File:Water Vapor Systems Seen From GOES-15 and GOES-13 Satellites, 12 September 2013.gif

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Meteorologists say international standards for wireless technology could degrade crucial satellite measurements of water vapour.

The international agency that regulates global telecommunications agreed to new radio-frequency standards on 21 November. Meteorologists say the long-awaited decision threatens the future of weather forecasting worldwide by allowing transmissions from mobile-phone networks to degrade the quality of Earth observations from space.

Wireless companies are beginning to roll out their next-generation networks, known as 5G, around the world. The new agreement is meant to designate the radio frequencies over which 5G equipment can transmit. But some of the frequencies come perilously close to those used by satellites to gather crucial weather and climate data. To keep the signals from interfering with one another, researchers have proposed turning down the amount of noise allowed to leak from 5G transmissions.

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The 5G transmissions will involve many frequencies, but the key one under discussion is 23.8 gigahertz. Water vapour in the atmosphere naturally produces a weak signal at this frequency, which satellites use to measure humidity. Those data feed into weather forecasts. But if a 5G station is transmitting a signal near the 23.8-gigahertz frequency, a weather satellite might pick it up and interpret it as water vapour. And that bad data could degrade forecasts.

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