The battle over 5G: Profit over Safety

Airplanes at SFO. Credit: Chiara Coetzee

On January 19, AT&T and Verizon activated their 5G networks. However, they agreed to temporarily disable their 5G transmitters near airports, in response to concerns from the aviation industry and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that 5G radiation could interfere with radar altimeters on aircraft. Radar altimeters indicate the distance of an aircraft to the ground, so they are critical for landing in low-visibility conditions. A 5G transmitter emits strong signals that could interfere with the weak radar reflections used by radar altimeters.

The deployment of 5G has been planned for years, and both the aviation industry and the telecommunications industry have had enough time to find a solution. The telecommunications industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claimed that 5G would not interfere with altimeters, while the aviation industry disputed that claim. The telecommunications companies insist that the aviation industry can upgrade its altimeters to ones that are not vulnerable to such interference. Of course, this would be an extra cost for the aviation industry.

These two capitalist industries – aviation and telecommunications – with their respective government representatives the FAA and FCC, are only interested in profits. The wireless companies want to profit by using 5G as soon as possible. The aviation companies do not want to spend billions of dollars verifying and upgrading their equipment, nor are they particularly committed to aviation safety, as shown by the Boeing 737 MAX fiasco. Only when the deployment of 5G actually threatened this industry’s profits, did they and their government representatives start to work out a solution.

If the aviation industry were to prevent the introduction of new communication technology so that it could save the expense of upgrading its equipment, it would not care, as long as it was profitable. Similarly, if the wireless industry were to profit from 5G at the expense of air travel safety, it too would not care. In the capitalist system, the only thing that matters is profit. And we see every day that the profit motive contradicts our needs and our safety.