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Verizon, AT&T Agree to Delay Some of 5G Deployment Until Mid-2023

June 19, 2022 by Dan McCue
(Photo by Pascal Meier via UnSpalsh)

WASHINGTON — Verizon Communications and AT&T have voluntarily agreed to delay some deployment of their long-awaited C-band 5G usage until July 2023 as air carriers continue to work to retrofit passenger and cargo aircraft to ensure they do not encounter instrument interference from the rollout.

As previously reported by The Well News, debate has been raging for months over concerns that the telecoms’ moving a portion of their 5G services to the new band could cause flight disruptions.

Airline pilots use the C-band to navigate in low-visibility situations.

Critics of Verizon and AT&T’s use of the C-band, including the airline pilot and flight attendant unions, have said 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 telecoms point to a similar use of the same bandwidth in Europe and elsewhere where no problems have been encountered.

The two telecoms paid $80 billion for the right to deploy 5G to the C-band, and have pushed back their deadline to deploy the 5G service at least twice in recent months.

During initial negotiations in January, the wireless companies offered to keep mitigations in place until July 5, 2022, while they worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to better understand the effects of 5G C-band signals on sensitive aviation instruments.

Based on progress achieved during a series of stakeholder roundtable meetings, the wireless companies offered Friday to continue with some level of voluntary mitigations for another year.

At the same time, the FAA worked with the wireless companies to identify airports around which their service can be enhanced with the least risk of disrupting flight schedules.

“We all agreed when we began these meetings that our goal was to make July 5, 2022, just another date on the calendar, and this plan makes that possible,” acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a written statement.

The newly announced “phased approach” of 5G deployment requires operators of aircraft with radio altimeters most susceptible to interference to retrofit them with radio frequency filters by the end of 2022. 

Verizon Executive Vice President Craig Silliman said in a statement that Friday’s announcement, “identifies a path forward that will enable Verizon to make full use of our C-band spectrum for 5G around airports on an accelerated and defined schedule.”

“Under this agreement reached with the FAA, we will lift the voluntary limitations on our 5G network deployment around airports in a staged approach over the coming months meaning even more consumers and businesses will benefit from the tremendous capabilities of 5G technology,” he said. “This progress is the result of months of close collaboration with the FAA, [the Federal Communications Commission] and aviation industry, and sets the stage for continued, robust 5G deployment.”

AT&T said it had worked with the FAA to develop a more tailored approach to controlling signal strength around runways, a move it says will allow it to activate more towers and increase signal strength.

According to a press release on the FAA’s website radio-altimeter manufacturers have been working with aircraft manufacturers to develop and test filters and installation kits for these aircraft. 

“Customers are receiving the first kits now. In most cases, the kits can be installed in a few hours at airline maintenance facilities,” the agency said.

Over the next 12 months, the FAA will continue to engage with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC on technical issues associated with these efforts.

“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely coexist,” Nolen said in his statement.

“We appreciate the willingness of Verizon and AT&T to continue this important and productive collaboration with the aviation industry.”

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

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