Will US follow EU in allowing 5G calls from mobile devices on planes?

Mobile devices - airplane mode

The European Commission has voted to permit voice calling from phones on commercial flights.

Travelers in Europe will soon be able to use 5G enabled mobile devices to make voice calls on commercial flights without being instructed by a flight attendant to place it into Airplane Mode. The European Commission recently ruled to permit 5G voice calling and high-speed internet connectivity on airplanes in 2023.

The decision is being applauded as an important opportunity for businesses operating out of Europe.

“The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” said the European commissioner for international markets Thierry Breton, in a statement released to the media.

Mobile devices - person using device on plane

That said, while the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) still does not stop people from using their cell phones and other personal electronic devices on planes, the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has individual given airlines the right to choose whether they allow cell phone calls and internet to be used on their flights.

Officially, the FCC’s regulations permit “any other portable electronic device that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.” That said, it is in that reference to interference that an issue has arisen.

In 2021, new 5G networks caused older aircraft cockpit instruments (for instance, altimeters) to experience interference. Altimeters are critical instruments for pilots to use, particularly for low-visibility landing. On older planes, those instruments operate at a frequency of about 4.4 GHz.

The 5G networks in the US are rolling out for mobile devices to use with the C-Band at lower frequencies.

The frequencies used in the US are between 3.7 GHz and 3.98 GHz. This is close enough to the older aircraft instrument frequencies that interference can happen. This situation isn’t the same in Europe. There, 5G is using frequencies of at least 5 GHz. As a result, there is enough of a gap between mobile devices and aircraft instruments that interference isn’t affected by cellular communications.

Still, if airlines in the US upgrade their instruments or install simple filtering technology, then the danger of interference will be eliminated.

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