Qantas has warned it may have to switch off its satellite-powered wi-fi services below 10,000 feet if 5G is allowed to operate in the same spectrum.
The airline used a regulatory filing - first reported by Commsday - to argue that the 28GHz band should only be used for satellite services, and not be open to other uses.
The wi-fi service on Qantas domestic routes uses technology from Viasat and NBN Co’s Sky Muster.
The airline plans to enable wi-fi on 82 domestic Boeing 737 and Airbus 330 aircraft by the end of 2019.
It said 12,000 customers a day “regularly use the service on all flights” and that wi-fi was also used in the cockpit to provide “important real-time data to flight operations and engineering on the ground”.
However, the airline said that its engineering applications, as well as the “gate-to-gate” experience to users, was threatened by the encroachment of competing uses for the 28GHz bandwidth that the wi-fi service used.
The band is one option for so-called millimetre-wave 5G services, which could allow fast 5G transmissions over short distance.
However, as NBN Co has previously warned, allowing 5G to operate in 28GHz spectrum in Australia could interfere with existing users, such as the Sky Muster satellite service.
As a user of Sky Muster, Qantas said it would prefer the 28GHz band to be reserved for satellite-only uses.
It warned that the utility of its wi-fi service would drop considerably if other users were allowed to come into the 28GHz band.
Qantas said its key concern with other options laid on the table by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) “is that they may not allow reliable satellite use of the 28GHz band on both take-off and landing at airports, which largely exist in and around large population centres.”
It said that under an option presented by ACMA allowing 5G into the band, “there is a risk that prioritisation of 5G over other services would require Qantas to turn off the wi-fi service under 10,000 feet to avoid interference, leading to an intermittent and inferior wi-fi service.”
“This degree of unreliability and disruption to gate to gate wi-fi connectivity will significantly impact the customer experience of Qantas passengers and interrupt the availability of applications we use over wi-fi to improve customer care, aircraft performance and safety, such as real time weather information or disruption management information,” it said.
It’s important to note the ACMA is not favouring a free-for-all in the 28GHz band, though it is favouring options that would allow users other than satellite operators - such as for fixed wireless - into the band.