‘Lives at risk if wireless technology demands not checked’
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA,Philippines — Lives are at risk if wireless technology demands, including the new 5G phone data service, are not held in check by governments, the United Nations weather agency warned.

Amid growing competition for radio wave space due to new wireless technologies, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called on governments to protect radio frequencies allocated to potentially life-saving weather forecasting services.

The agency said that earth observation services, vital to weather forecasts and long-term climate change monitoring, are having to share more and more limited bandwidth with the rollout of new communication devices, including the new 5G phone data service.

The ability to foresee incoming disaster and destructive weather events is possible thanks to “passive sensing techniques” used by many weather experts, the WMO explained. Sensitive instruments measure very low-power microwaves emitted from the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface.

Frequencies dedicated to weather forecasts need to be balanced with commercial interests, Eric Allaix, chair of the WMO group dealing with frequency issues, said as he explained the risks posed by having too little bandwidth when it comes to early warnings of bad weather.

“Thanks to timely weather warnings, there has been a big reduction in loss of life during recent decades. These improvements are directly related to the use of radio frequency-based remote sensing, feeding directly into numerical weather prediction systems giving more accurate predictions with longer lead periods.”

Allaix emphasized that WMO does not wish to hamper technological advancements, “but we are concerned that they should not encroach on the frequencies used by life-saving applications” including aircraft, radar and other observing systems beyond predicting the weather.

In June, the World Meteorological Congress, WMO’s decision-making body, passed a resolution stressing the need to protect radio bandwidth necessary for earth observations, explaining that “jeopardizing these frequencies jeopardizes weather forecasts and services, and thus, people’s lives.”

The radio frequency on which these observations operate runs adjacent to the 5G frequency used on many mobile devices, which make lines of communications in predicting the weather vulnerable to interference.

From Oct. 28 to Nov. 22, the World Radio Communication Conference (WRC-19)  will bring together more than 3,500 participants in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, to address and revise radio regulations with major repercussions for earth exploration, environmental and meteorological monitoring.

The 193 member states belonging to the International Telecommunications Union will be in attendance, along with 267 members of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector.

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