China to roll out dedicated 5G network for airports, plays down frequency interference concerns

·3 min read

China's aviation administration said its planned 5G network for Chinese airports will not affect aircraft safety because it uses aviation-specific frequencies that operate separately from public 5G networks.

A 5G-based aeronautical mobile airport communications (AeroMACS) system to provide enhanced connectivity between planes, tarmac vehicles and other airport infrastructure will be built by 2025, according to a plan announced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on Friday.

The move comes after major US airlines warned last week of a "catastrophic" aviation crisis as US telecoms companies AT&T and Verizon proceeded to deploy new 5G services.

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US airlines say that 5G services using the C-band frequency, from 3.7 to 3.98 GHz, could interfere with instruments such as altimeters, which measure aircraft altitude, according to a Reuters report.

China's four state-owned carriers use C-band frequencies from 2.6 to 4.9 GHz, but a fourth carrier, China Broadcasting Network, was allocated the 700Mhz low frequency 5G band for networks in rural areas.

CAAC officials told reporters on Friday that China's 5G AeroMACS airport system will not affect flight safety because it operates on specific frequencies, and uses independent base stations and telecoms services.

"The aviation-specific 5G will be built on a private network, and completely isolated from public 5G networks deployed by telecoms operators," said CAAC official Chen Xiangyang, adding that the 5G frequencies will not affect aircraft altimeters in China.

The deployment of AeroMACS will be carried out in two phases: a working team will be set up this year to draw up technical standards, followed by implementation from 2023 to 2025.

AeroMACS is a new-generation airport datalink designed to help airlines, airport authorities and Air Navigation Service Providers cope with the increased volumes of data exchange at busy airports.

Designated a key digital infrastructure by China's top leadership, the plan to deploy 5G-based communication in airports aligns with the State Council's call to expand 5G applications to industrial sectors such as manufacturing, the power grid and ports in the period from 2021 to 2025.

The deployment of 5G by China's industrial sector has been sluggish due to high deployment costs and uncertain economic benefits.

Over the past three years, Chinese state-owned telecoms companies scrambled to add more base stations across the nation. By the end of 2021, 1.42 million 5G base stations had been erected, with the number of 5G mobile subscribers topping 355 million, data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showed.

An Airbus A350-900 arrives at the Baoan International Airport in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, Jan. 6, 2022. Photo: Xinhu alt=An Airbus A350-900 arrives at the Baoan International Airport in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province, Jan. 6, 2022. Photo: Xinhu>

Analysts and industry professionals said the plan could push China's 5G adoption forward. "Airfield communication using 5G has the potential to compete with current telecoms technology used in airports," said Ethan Ying, a manager at telecoms modem provider Quectel.

Airport communications in China are classified into different security levels, with AeroMACS deployed at the highest level for air traffic control, while less critical transmissions rely on public 3G/4G networks, or airport-specific wireless systems.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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