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Why Airlines Don't Use 5G Networks | All You Need to Know

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Why Airlines Don't Use 5G Networks

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks. It's the new global wireless standard that comes after 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G. Deployment of 5G began worldwide in 2019 and is 100 times faster than 4G. There are currently over 1.5 billion users in the world that are using the 5G network.

With the development of 5G, there are new spectrum frequencies, new radio and a new core network, all helping to connect virtually everyone and everything together including objects and devices. To summarise, 5G was designed to increase network speed, reduce latency and improve the flexibility of wireless services across the globe.

 

Picture of a 5G sign

If you're looking to book flights with airlines that provide 5G, this is currently unavailable.

However, you can still stay connected in the air using WiFi provided by the airline. Check out our Airlines for Free WiFi guide for more information!

 


 

Is 5G available on flights?

No, 5G is currently not available on flights and probably won't be for a while. The FAA aims to safely integrate 5G and aviation within the US over the coming years and has been working on reducing the effects caused by the disruptions, including:

Making sure airlines can be sure that the altimeters are safe and reliable within 5G C-band environments

Working with airlines to minimise flight delays and cancellations in affected areas

Enabling data sharing between avionics manufacturers and wireless companies

How does 5G disrupt flights?

High-speed 5G internet uses C-band frequencies which are very similar to the frequencies used by modern aircraft to measure altitude. There is speculation that this would result in interference with the aircraft's instruments and cause disruptions to flights.

To put this into context, if an aircraft needed to land on a runway with low visibility conditions, the pilots would need to use automatic and guided landing systems. Therefore, if 5G was present on the aircraft or at the arrival airport, these systems may be disrupted, the pilots may not be able to land the aircraft safely and they would likely need to divert the aircraft to another airport away from antennas using the 5G network, resulting in delays and cancellations.

 


 

Which airports are affected by 5G?

This depends on where you reside. In the USA, there are currently over 170 airports that are within the range of a 5G antenna. The FAA claims that over 95% of commercially used aircraft models can land safely at these airports if there is low visibility.

But what about outside the US? The United States uses higher power levels for 5G compared to other countries around the world. The deployment of 5G in other countries involved different conditions to deployment in the US, including lower power levels, adjusted antennas to reduce interferences with flights, the placement of antennas away from airfields and the frequencies used.

For example, in France, the angles of the 5G antennas are tilted downwards to limit any potential interferences - see the infographic below.

 

Infographic showing the differences between 5G in the US and France

Source / Photo credit: Federal Aviation Administration

 


 

FAQs

Can I use 5G data on a flight?

The FAA claims that the majority of planes can now operate safely without interference from 5G cell services thanks to the work that has been put in throughout 2022 to reduce the disruptions caused by 5G.

This means that you may be able to have access to 5G data onboard, however, different airlines have their own rules regarding using any form of mobile data, whether it's 5G or 3G, on your flight.

What can I use on my flight instead of 5G?

If you'd like to stay connected in the air, you can always use the WiFi provided by the airline. Many airlines offer free and paid WiFi onboard including JetBlue, Emirates and Qantas, among others. At Alternative Airlines, we've created a guide to show you which airlines offer free WiFi and we've also got a blog post on which airlines have the best WiFi service.

Depending on the airline you fly with, you may also be permitted to enable your mobile data onboard so you can freely browse the web using 4G or any other cellular network available. Please be aware that you may be asked to activate 'Flight Mode' during takeoff and landing.

Will my flight be affected by 5G?

When 5G was first deployed at the beginning of 2022, there were many concerns about flights being delayed or cancelled due to the disruptions caused by 5G. Collaborative work is being carried out across the US and the rest of the world to make sure pilots can avoid interference to the guided landing systems caused by 5G. In the US, over 170 airports are close to a 5G antenna, however, the FAA has stated that 95% of commercial aircraft models can safely land at these airports without interference from the 5G cellular network.

Certain commercial aircraft may not be able to land at an airport within range of a 5G antenna due to the lack of modern guided landing systems in these aircraft. These include the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, McDonnell Douglas MD-83, McDonnell Douglas MD-90, Embraer ERJ-135 and Embraer ERJ-145.

 

For more information on how 5G can affect flights, please take a look at the official statement provided by the FAA on 5G and Aviation Safety.

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