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AT&T, Verizon to Delay 5G Rollout Near Airports

January 18, 2022 by Dan McCue
AT&T, Verizon to Delay 5G Rollout Near Airports

WASHINGTON — AT&T and Verizon on Tuesday agreed to delay their rollout of new 5G services near some unspecified airports over ongoing concerns that moving those services to a new band could cause flight disruptions.

Debate has been raging for months over whether — and if so, to what extent — moving the 5G services to a bandwidth airlines use to navigate in low-visibility situations would be a problem.

Critics of the plan, including the airline pilot and flight attendant unions, contend the new wireless activity on the bandwidth could interfere with the radar altimeters on commercial aircraft and helicopters, creating a safety hazard.

Advocates for the plan say a similar use of the same bandwidth in Europe and elsewhere has caused no problems.

In an earlier agreement, the two telecoms, which paid $80 billion for the right to deploy 5G to the C-band, agreed to push the deadline for the services back to Jan. 19. On Tuesday, each agreed to push the deadline back yet again.

The companies initially rejected the proposal, but by Monday night embraced it as a better alternative than having to fight the airline industry in court. Under a deal announced at the start of the new year, the telecoms agreed to delay deployment of 5G to the C-band until Jan. 19.

Now, AT&T and Verizon both say they’ll begin the expansion this month, but will bypass several unspecified airports until more analysis of the problem has been completed.

“At our sole discretion we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” an AT&T spokesperson said in an email to The Well News. “We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner. We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

In a statement from the White House, President Joe Biden commended the two telecoms for agreeing to delay 5G deployment around key airports “and to continue working with the Department of Transportation on safe 5G deployment at this limited set of locations.” 

“This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled,” the president said. 

“This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans,” he continued. “Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine, and tomorrow will be a massive step in the right direction. 

“My team has been engaging nonstop with the wireless carriers, airlines and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely coexist. And, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports,” Biden said.

In a separate statement Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “Next-generation 5G technologies will be the backbone of our economic future.

“Today’s agreement makes it possible to bring this technology to millions more consumers and businesses throughout the country starting tomorrow using the C-band,” Rosenworcel said. “This is welcome news because we know that deployment can safely coexist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world. The FAA has a process in place to assess altimeter performance in the 5G environment and resolve any remaining concerns. It is essential that the FAA now complete this process with both care and speed.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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