After Dire Warning, a Change to 5G Rollout

AT&T, Verizon delay turning on some of the new 5G cell towers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 19, 2022 12:18 AM CST
After Dire Warning, a Change to 5G Rollout
A Dreamliner 787-10 arriving from Los Angeles pulls up to a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Monday, Jan. 7, 2019.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(Newser) – AT&T and Verizon will delay launching new wireless service near key airports after the nation’s largest airlines said the service would interfere with aircraft technology and cause widespread flight disruptions, the AP reports. The decision from the companies came Tuesday as the Biden administration intervened to broker a settlement between the telecoms and airlines over a rollout of new 5G service. The companies said they will launch 5G or fifth-generation service Wednesday, but they will delay turning on 5G cell towers within a 2-mile radius of runways designated by federal officials. They did not say how long they would keep those towers idle. The showdown between the airline and telecom industries and their rival regulators—the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission—is a crisis years in the making.

President Joe Biden said the decision by AT&T and Verizon “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.” He said the administration will keep working on a permanent solution. Even with the concession by the telecommunications companies, federal officials said there could be some cancellations and delays because of limitations of equipment on certain planes. Delta Air Lines also said there could be issues with flights operating in bad weather because of airport restrictions that regulators issued last week, when the 5G rollout appeared to be on schedule. The airlines and the FAA say that they have long tried to raise alarms about potential interference from 5G C-Band but the FCC ignored them.

The new high-speed wireless service uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by altimeters, which are devices that measure the height of aircraft above the ground. Altimeters are used to help pilots land when visibility is poor, and they link to other systems on planes. AT&T and Verizon say their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics, and that the technology is being safely used in 40 other countries. However, the CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest say that 5G will be more disruptive than earlier thought. That is because dozens of large airports were subject to flight restrictions announced last week by the Federal Aviation Administration if 5G service was deployed nearby. The CEOs added that those restrictions wouldn't be limited to times when visibility is poor. (More here, including a possible solution.)

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