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Don't Mess With GPS

More importantly, do you know how a new 5G cellular network may affect your boating? Possibly not in a good way.

Garmin GPSMAP

A 5G mobile data network operating near the GPS frequency could have a negative impact for boaters on marine navigation and weather forecasts. (Photo: Garmin)

Several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), are actively pursuing legislative solutions to protect GPS. BoatUS Government Affairs is working with them and other members of Congress to make certain that boaters have a reliable navigation system.

Weather Forecasts

Will 5G cellphone networks affect the accuracy of marine weather forecasts? You wouldn't think the two would be related, but the 5G technology that carriers are eager to roll out could have a profound impact on weather predictions in general, and for boaters specifically, especially on hurricane forecasts.

The problem has to do with interference between radio frequencies that may be too close together. NOAA's Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) is an instrument that flies overhead in satellites. It collects water vapor data by sensing changes in the 23.8 GHz emissions of the Earth's atmosphere and surface. Weather scientists say this is the only frequency they can use to observe water vapor in the atmosphere, and NOAA says water vapor information is the single most important data for weather forecasting.

Several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), are actively pursuing legislative solutions to protect GPS. BoatUS Government Affairs is working with them and other members of Congress to make certain that boaters have a reliable navigation system.

Weather Forecasts

Will 5G cellphone networks affect the accuracy of marine weather forecasts? You wouldn't think the two would be related, but the 5G technology that carriers are eager to roll out could have a profound impact on weather predictions in general, and for boaters specifically, especially on hurricane forecasts.

The problem has to do with interference between radio frequencies that may be too close together. NOAA's Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) is an instrument that flies overhead in satellites. It collects water vapor data by sensing changes in the 23.8 GHz emissions of the Earth's atmosphere and surface. Weather scientists say this is the only frequency they can use to observe water vapor in the atmosphere, and NOAA says water vapor information is the single most important data for weather forecasting.

GPS equipment

Individual boaters should not bear the cost of upgrading equipment to be assured GPS reliability. (Photo: Getty Images/Agafapaperiapunta)

Here's where the problem comes in. While ATMS uses a sensing band of 23.8 GHz, last year FCC auctioned off radio spectrum for 5G wireless transmission in the adjacent 24 GHz band, which NOAA says is so close to the ATMS frequency that it can interfere with the data. NOAA has concluded that the "spillover" limit advanced by FCC would result in about 77% data loss from ATMS. Neil Jacobs, acting head of NOAA, told Congress that 5G interference could set the accuracy of weather forecasts back 40 years because the interference could result in a 30% reduction in forecast accuracy. As an example, Jacobs said, with such a reduction in accuracy, the most accurate model at the time would have predicted that Superstorm Sandy would have been steered out to sea, rather than hitting the Northeast coast as one of the most damaging hurricanes in history, and preparation for the storm could have been cut short by days.

Other heavy-hitters such as NASA, the Department of Defense, and the American Meteorological Society, which support NOAA's conclusions, have expressed concerns about the potential consequences. The Navy wrote a memo stating the interference would lead to "a probable degradation of weather and ocean models" resulting in "increased risk of ... degraded battlespace awareness for tactical/operational advantage."

According to The Washington Post, FCC rejected NOAA and NASA's requests for more debate on the issue. Stakeholders hoped that the World Radiocommunication Conference would vote to restrict the potential for interference last fall, but the delegates decided to continue to allow much more interference than weather organizations suggested.

BoatUS has significant concerns with any potential interference with a reliable navigation signal as well as accurate forecasts. We also do not think that individual boat owners should bear the costs to upgrade equipment in order to be assured of the reliability of their GPS navigation systems. BoatUS will urge the incoming FCC chairperson to limit 5G interference. Visit fcc.gov/about/contact to contact the FCC chairman or commissioners.

Author

Charles Fort

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Charles Fort is BoatUS Magazine's West Coast Editor. He often writes local news items for BoatUS Magazine's Waypoints column and contributes to Reports, in-depth tech features in every issue written to help readers avoid accidental damage to their boats. He is a member of the National Association of Marine Surveyors, he's on ABYC tech committees, and has a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard license. He lives in California.