AT&T and Verizon to Delay 5G Rollout Over FAA’s Airplane Fears

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Two of America’s biggest telecoms, AT&T and Verizon, agreed on Thursday to delay the debut of a new 5G frequency band for a month. The reason: the Federal Aviation Administration needs to work out once and for all whether it could interfere with cockpit safety systems in airplanes.

Up in the Air

AT&T has pledged $23.4 billion and Verizon $45.5 billion towards licenses to use the electromagnetic spectrum for high-speed 5G mobile services — that’s the frequency conspiracy theorists are fretting over but in reality, are used to transmit big data files in the blink of an eye.

But one band of 5G radio frequencies — the 3.7 to 4.2 gigahertz known as the C-band — operates near the range of some airplane equipment, leading aviation analysts and the FAA to worry about possible interference.

The telecom industry has disputed the concerns, noting mobile carriers in other countries already use C-band frequencies and haven’t had any problems. Nevertheless, AT&T and Verizon agreed to push back rollout for a month, from the initial December 5 launch date, because the FAA is ready to up the ante:

  • The airline regulator has prepared orders to limit pilots’ use of flight systems that help planes land in bad weather, prevent mid-air collisions, and limit crashes.
  • Such an order would disrupt passenger and cargo flights in and out of the US’s 46 largest metropolitan areas, all of which have 5G towers. In worst-case scenarios, flights in whole regions could be shut down.

Been There, Regulated That: The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the telecom industry, has no problem with the C-band frequencies being used. Its review of research last year concluded “well-designed [flight] equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference).” No matter what happens, let’s hope everyone can fly home for Christmas.

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