5G Networks Could Throw Weather Forecasting Into Chaos

NOAA's acting chief said that interference from 5G wireless phones could reduce the accuracy of forecasts by 30 percent.

That's equivalent, he said, to the quality of weather predictions four decades ago. "If you look back in time to see when our forecast scale was roughly 30 percent less than today, it was 1980." Jacobs told the House Subcommittee on the Environment. That reduction would give coastal residents two or three fewer days to prepare for a hurricane, and it could lead to incorrect predictions of the storms' final path to land, Jacobs said. [...]

In March, the FCC began auctioning off its 24-gigahertz frequency band to wireless carriers, despite the objections of scientists at NOAA, NASA, and the American Meteorological Society. [...]

While the FCC can switch which regions of the spectrum it allocates to phone companies, forecasters are stuck. That's because water vapor emits a faint signal in the atmosphere at a frequency (23.8 GHz) that is extremely close to the one sold for next-generation 5G wireless communications (24 GHz). Satellites like NOAA's GOES-R and the European MetOp monitor this frequency to collect data that is fed into prediction models for upcoming storms and weather systems.

"We can't move away from 23.8 or we would." [...] NOAA's Jacobs told the House committee that the number currently proposed by the FCC would result in a 77 percent data loss from the NOAA satellite's passive microwave sounders.

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16 Responses:

  1. ssl-3 says:

    While I'm certainly in favor of accurate weather reports and I do wish to see how 5G ends up being utilized: In the summary, all I see is a boy crying wolf over spilt milk.

    The time to address this is well-past and the $billions that are making this transition happen cannot be unspent.

    • jwz says:

      So you're saying, "I'm sorry, the legislation has been passed, and water vapor is going to have to adapt."

      • ssl-3 says:

        Yes, that matches my observation perfectly.

        To be sure, I see little merit to 5G. It seems ill-conceived on many levels, with applications that seem to only be beneficial to very sense populations in wide-open spaces (like ball games, or Times Square).

        The range is so miserable that it doesn't seem to be capable of resolving the infamous last-mile problem in enough cases to be broadly useful, and a chunk of cheap fiber optic cable or coax will always offer far more potential bandwidth than a tiny subset of barely-usable RF spectrum ever will -- no matter how fancy and miraculous the phased-array antennas get.

        But this horse is already gone, and I don't know what else we can do but close the barndoor behind it.

        I don't have to like it this way in order to see that it be this way.

    • tfb says:

      So 'because we've spent all this money and we can't go back in time to do things differently it, we have to blunder on, even if the results will be catastrophic'? That's the sunk-cost fallacy.

  2. Richard says:

    Who needs weather forecasting, in times of globel warming?

    • tfb says:

      Well, of course, this will also fuck with the data people need to make and validate climate models (which in at least some cases use the same code as weather models, though obviously set up differently). That will be ... convenient for some people.

  3. phuzz says:

    I got interested so I went looking to see what the EU are going to do about this chunk of spectrum (disclaimer, you probably need to be a radio engineer and a lawyer to get a definitive answer, I am neither).
    As far as I can tell the EU approach is to say "here's some sensible limits, we'll leave the rest up to national regulators", but they do specify "limits of −42 dBW/200 MHz for 5G Base Stations and −38 dBW/200MHz for 5G User Equipment.", specifically to protect what they term "passive sensing" satelites.
    I don't know how useful that will be, but all the telecoms firms complained that it was overly restrictive, so it's probably about right.

  4. J. Peterson says:

    What's really pathetic about all the 5G hype is all of the new high-speed features are not available indoors. That's right, in order to get the amazing speed, you need to receive signals at greater than 10Ghz. This usually doesn't make it through walls and has trouble even getting past windows.

    So, unless you're outdoors with line-of-site to a tower less than 1/2 a mile a way, 5G==4G.

    • tfb says:

      In other words, just as severe weather events are getting more severe and faster, we're going to fuck with weather forecasts, doing which will kill large numbers of people (and not, you know, just poor brown & black people, especially if they are far away, who don't matter, but white Americans, who do). And we're doing that so we can upgrade to a system that doesn't work other than in the sense it delays the point where people realise that the race to more bandwidth for phones is over and a bunch of companies that relied on that race going on for ever fail.

      And we can't back out of this idiocy because of the sunk cost by those same companies which is, presumably, in turn because they have bribed the regulator.

      This is going to be used as an example in degree courses in fifty years.

      • jwz says:

        This is going to be used as an example in degree courses in fifty years.

        Unless by then we are all cannibals.

        • tfb says:

          Degree courses taught by aliens:

          now, clearly this kind of cognitive deficit is one of the reasons why, despite a really quite promising civilisation, sol-3 is now, following the resource wars we talked about in the last lecture, barely habitable by its native lifeforms due to radiation. This, of course, has been convenient for us: invasion was easy although it has lowered the quality of the slaves. Does anyone have any comments: please raise your tentacles if so.

    • Jon H says:

      Honestly at that point they might as well just run fiber to wifi hotspots on the telephone poles.

  5. mopp says:

    Now astronomny reasearch is at risk:

    SpaceX anticipates launching thousands of satellites — creating a mega-constellation of false stars"
    [..]
    Astronomers fear that these reflections will threaten stargazing and their research.
    [...]
    Astronomers don’t yet know how they will adjust.
    [...]
    Not only do these satellites reflect light, they also emit radio frequencies — which a number of astronomers find troubling. [...] so-called radio quiet zones might become a thing of the past.
    [...]
    [These satelites will] operate on two frequency ranges that astronomers use to map the gas throughout the universe — allowing them to see how planets as large as Jupiter assemble, and how galaxies formed immediately after the Big Bang.
    [...]
    “If those frequency channels become inaccessible, it’s extremely limiting to what we can learn about the early universe,” said Caitlin Casey, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Mr. Musk says it's for the "greater good."

    Cons: scientists will be able to know less about the universe.

    Pros: everybody on earth will be able to assert their Human Right to burn time by watching cat videos.

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