Lives at risk if wireless technology demands are not held in check: UN weather watchdog

24 October 2019

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

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

Frequencies dedicated to weather forecasts need to be balanced with commercial interests, Eric Allaix, chair of the WMO group dealing with frequency issues, said, explaining the risks posed by having too little bandwith, 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.”

No wish to hold technology back

Mr. Allaix, said 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.”

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

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 28 October to 22 November, 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 (ITU) will be in attendance, along with 267 members of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R).

 

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