Despite the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) directive to telecom operators to avoid operating 5G networks near airports, there has been a significant delay in addressing the issue of outdated aircraft radios. An RTI response obtained by The Hindu reveals that there has been no concrete progress in replacing or retrofitting 'altimeters,' crucial equipment that ensures safe aircraft landings, to prevent interference with 5G networks.
The potential interference arises due to certain altimeters operating on the C band, which coincides with the frequency used by 5G networks. Consequently, airlines need to make changes to their equipment to mitigate these interference issues. However, the process of replacing or retrofitting the altimeters is still under discussion, as stated by Ravi Krishna, Joint Director of Civil Aviation at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
While a meeting took place in April to address the matter, there is currently no deadline for airlines to take action and protect their aircraft from signal interference. This delay means that passengers with 5G-enabled devices will be unable to access fast internet in areas where the demand for such networks, such as airports, is highest. The inability to access 5G in airports limits the potential benefits of these networks, particularly for frequent air travellers who often possess newer devices capable of supporting 5G speeds.
In contrast, the United States is making progress in resolving the issue. After granting multiple extensions for airlines to replace or retrofit their altimeters, the US Department of Transportation has authorised telecom operators to operate 5G networks around airports starting in February 2024. Most altimeters have been replaced in compliance with the US government's insistence, with only a few remaining that will not be permitted to land in low-visibility conditions.