Several dozen people are seen attending a rally against the installment of 5G mobile networks in front Polish Parliament (Sejm) in Warsaw, Poland on April 26, 2019. This year the Polish government had announced it would exclude Chinese firm Huawei from participating in tenders for upgrading it's mobile networks amidst allegations of corporate espionage. More recently however the government has partially reversed it's desicion claiming it does not want to increase costs for operators.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Quick notes:

  • Weather agencies expect the new technology to interfere with measurements from satellites.
  • The expected interferences could possibly make it more difficult to predict upcoming storms.
  • The world is doomed, and it’s all 5G’s fault. Regulations are our only hope.

New technologies often come with a lament from many. The Luddites, serving as the most popular example, lost their jobs at the introduction of new sewing machine technology. As these workers grew increasingly distant from their past livelihoods, anger blossomed into violent protests.

In the modern era, there’s a new suite of concerns that should worry us about new technology. One of these is their potential to disrupt other technological systems we already have in place. This is why many experts are concerned about 5G, a technology with the potential to disrupt our current ability to predict the weather.

What is 5G?

According to AT&T, “5G is the next generation of mobile communication.” And with this, many service providers expect positive changes to our current network.

Among the expected changes include increased data delivery and a faster network experience. These are the same changes we gained from the transition into 4G and LTE, only greater. Now we can buy dog food from Amazon without having to wait 12 seconds for a page to load.

Despite these changes, the new technology requires the launching of satellites (many, many satellites) to increase this data delivery — a problem that didn’t emerge with the introduction of these earlier mediums.

But there’s another problem: the frequencies the satellites intend to use.

Goodbye weather, hello 5G

5G intends to introduce its changes by occupying a different band of satellite-delivered frequencies. The change will enable them to pack more data into the signal, ultimately increasing the speed of service. Specifically, they intend to occupy frequencies in the range of 24.25 to 25.23 GHz.

Unfortunately, these wavelengths are perilously close to the frequencies currently used by weather satellites — 23.8 GHz. The near overlap is expected to make it difficult for these satellites to accurately read and predict the weather.

Is that an oncoming tornado or just another order for laundry detergent?

satellite in space above earthsatellite in space above earth
Photo courtesy of NASA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Joint Polar Satellite System, for instance, is likely to be affected. This system uses satellites to read water vapor in the atmosphere, allowing NOAA to measure the severity of potentially brewing storms. Without these systems working effectively, predicting such storms would become exponentially more challenging.


Because of these potential problems, the National Academy of Sciences attempted to set up a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to try and implement some regulations on how the satellites would operate. The hope was that these regulations would help to avoid the expected interference between the two technologies.

Unfortunately, the FCC refused to meet — they think the concerns of these scientists are “overblown.” This reluctance could be looked back upon as the defining moment where something could have — yet was not — done.

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