Skip Navigation


May 21, 2019

How a Fake Weather Sensor Could Take Out 5G .

How a Fake Weather Sensor Could Take Out 5G


CTIA EVP Brad Gillen
Brad Gillen
Executive Vice President

Like everyone else, we were pretty surprised to learn the ongoing FCC 5G spectrum auction will mean our 7-day forecast will go away. We were surprised since it’s just not true.  It’s an absurd claim with no science behind it.

The dire predictions right now from the Department of Commerce about the impact of 5G on current weather forecasting are wrong on the merits, on the facts, and on the process.

Their proof ultimately relies on a study of a sensor that never went into use.  It was scrapped 13 years ago.  That’s right, we are risking our 5G leadership over protecting moth-balled decade-old government systems.

Now, in a last ditch effort to undo five years of work and multiple Administration and FCC decisions, the Commerce Department is misleading Congress and the press.  In doing so, the agency is undermining the President’s clearly articulated position on the importance on leading in spectrum for 5G services.

We can—and will—have 5G and weather forecasting.  The effort by the Commerce Department to hijack an ongoing spectrum auction in such a public and misleading way is regrettable and must be rejected.  The Trump Administration has already made its call, and it is time we all get on the same page as China and our other rivals most certainly are today.

The Sensor NOAA Wants to Protect Does Not Exist

The Commerce Department and NOAA are blanketing the press and Capitol Hill with dire predictions that they will lose 70% of weather forecasting data if the 24 GHz auction goes forward.  Their proof is based on protecting a sensor that was never deployed. The program for that sensor – known as the Conical scanning Microwave Imager/Sounder – was canceled in 2006. This debate candidly should end with that simple fact—it’s pretty hard to harm something that does not even exist.

The study has other flaws too that are instructive as to how the Department of Commerce is handling this entire situation. The study was developed without industry coordination and did not follow the well-settled protocol to address interference issues, which could have helped identify the significant errors in the study. The study lumps together potential interference from across the entire Eastern United States when it should only consider an area roughly the size of D.C.  And it also doesn’t take into account how 5G technologies actually work.

NOAA Operates Effectively Under the FCC’s Interference Protections Right Now

In their efforts to circumvent the Administration’s proper channels, the Department of Commerce is neglecting to share with the Hill or media that the weather sensor that was actually deployed is much less susceptible to interference—and the emission rules currently in place are appropriate.  That is one of the most confusing parts of this debate, NOAA operates today with interference rules for its existing commercial neighbors identical to what the FCC has adopted, and there are no claims of interference to passive weather sensors today.

The Department of Commerce Is Acting Counter to Administration Policy

President Trump set a goal that the U.S. should “have more 5G spectrum than any other country in the world” by 2020. To accomplish this, policymakers have been working collaboratively to unleash more spectrum to power these next-gen wireless networks. Well, most officials anyway.

Good spectrum policymaking seeks to maximize the efficient use of spectrum and avoid adopting overly restrictive protections.  Interference issues are resolved amongst agencies weighing all respective interests and priorities, without putting the parochial interest of any particular agency or issue above others.  Those procedures work—as they did here—to develop a balanced approach to achieve key national objectives.

A 5-Year Deliberative Process

It is critical to stress that this has been a 5-year process with multiple opportunities to consult and comment.  The FCC first sought comment on the 24 GHz rules in 2014 and again 2016.  In developing those proceedings, the FCC conducted the standard interagency coordination process with potentially affected federal agencies. Neither the Commerce Department, NOAA nor NASA raised any objections or concerns in the FCC’s public docket.

The FCC formally established the rules two years ago, and then announced its plan to auction the band last year.   Given this long history, the Commerce Department’s efforts now—years into the process—cannot be defended.

Undermining Our Global Leadership Efforts

Wireless is a global industry.  There is a big multi-national conference this fall to determine the next set of global 5G bands, and it is critical the U.S. protect and promote the spectrum bands available in the United States today.  We need, and want, the 24 GHz to be open to 5G globally.

In preparation for that conference (and also before the 24 GHz auction started), the Administration—again through a multi-agency approach—established our nation’s position on 24 GHz interference issues.  That process resulted in an endorsement of the FCC’s limits.

As a result, the U.S. is already on the record globally in regional conferences promoting the U.S. position on 24 GHz.  The Commerce Department is now working directly counter to our nation’s stated public position.  That’s extraordinary.

And to be clear, the Commerce Department’s approach would put at risk not just the 24 GHz band but also other key 5G bands, like the 37 GHz band that both the wireless industry and the Department of Defense have targeted as a key to their 5G strategies.

What is worse is that puts the Commerce Department aligned with rival countries that do not wish to see us leverage our 5G head start, and would happily knee cap our 5G offerings by setting unnecessary restrictions globally.  The headlines are dominated by the coordinated 5G efforts by the Chinese government and operators and the New York Times exposed that the Russian Government is trying to scare Americans about 5G because they are so far behind.  When other nations are so clearly unified, it is particularly vexing for the Commerce Department to be working against the President’s and the United States’ position.

Certainty Needed to Invest

As we wrote last week, we should be celebrating our success in getting 24 GHz and other high-band spectrum to market.  It is helping drive a U.S. advantage and one other countries are pushing hard to catch up to.

The Commerce Department is now demanding the FCC stop or stall that same auction.  This is unprecedented.  We have over 20 years of wireless auctions in this country, and we have never seen a government agency actively work counter to a FCC auction, let alone during an auction.

Commissioner Rosenworcel has rightfully cautioned, “I believe that bidders should know with certainty that they will be able to use the spectrum they are purchasing at auction.”  She’s right.  Billions are at stake and the U.S. wireless industry 5G plans are now dependent upon access on the terms everyone agreed to.

* * *

Chairman Pai has been forceful that the “Commission’s decisions with respect to spectrum have been and will continue to be based on sound science rather than exaggerated and unverified last-minute assertions.”  Commissioner Rosenworcel has been even more blunt about this “embarrassing public dispute” concluding “[I]t is no way to do spectrum policy.”

All who care about U.S. 5G leadership and good government should encourage the FCC to stay the current course and commend them for a clean and transparent process to promote 5G and protect our nation’s weather forecasting capabilities.

CTIA Mobile Minute™ Subscription

Get features on wireless products and services by email.
1400 16th St NW #600, Washington, DC 20036(202) 736-3200
Copyright © CTIA 2021. All rights reserved.

Get in Touch