FAA, Telecom Companies Agree to 5G Service Delay

Upgraded wireless services rollout postponed two weeks, averting flight disruptions

By Evan Dougherty

Published January 7, 2022

Read Time: 3 mins


Major telecommunications companies Verizon and AT&T reached an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration on Jan. 3 to pause the rollout of 5G wireless networks for two weeks, temporarily averting potential disruptions to air travel.

The introduction of 5G wireless services using C-band spectrum was scheduled to occur on Jan. 5 but will instead take place on Jan. 19 after the wireless carriers voluntarily agreed to delay the rollout to give regulators additional time to minimize potential impacts.

“Safety is the core of our mission and this guides all of our decisions. The FAA thanks AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to a voluntary delay and for their proposed mitigations,” the agency said in a statement. “We look forward to using the additional time and space to reduce flight disruptions associated with this 5G deployment.”

The agreement comes following friction between the aviation and telecom industries over the upcoming deployment of wireless networks utilizing 5G. Aviation leaders and regulators have raised concerns over the impact of 5G using the C-band spectrum on aircraft electronic systems that could cause disruptions for airlines and their passengers.

Additionally, aviation experts claim that 5G could prevent aircraft from landing at airports under certain weather conditions. For example, radio altimeters use radio waves to transmit altitude data to pilots. This equipment operates on the same radio frequencies that will be shared by the C-band spectrum.

The aviation industry has raised concerns over 5G networks interfering with critical aircraft systems, such as radio altimeters and equipment that assists planes landing in bad weather. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The telecom industry, however, has pushed back on these claims. AT&T and Verizon have pointed to the successful rollout of 5G in 40 countries with no impact on flight operations.

“We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues,” an AT&T spokeswoman said in a statement, as reported by NBC News.

The FAA on Jan. 7 released a list of 50 airports that will have buffer zones when the wireless companies turn on the 5G service later this month. The agency sought input from the aviation community where the proposed buffer zones would help reduce the risk of disruption.

The wireless companies agreed to turn off transmitters and make other adjustments near these airports for six months to minimize potential interference with sensitive aircraft instruments.

AT&T and Verizon have clashed with the federal government over the matter. The two companies on Jan. 2 initially rejected a letter sent by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA administrator Steve Dickson asking them to delay 5G deployment for another two weeks. Ultimately, the wireless providers agreed to the new Jan. 19 rollout date.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents many major U.S. carriers, applauded the agreement to delay the implementation and proposed mitigations.

“Safety is and always will be the top priority of U.S. airlines,” said group president and CEO Nicholas Calio. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to help ensure that new 5G service can coexist with aviation safely.”

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