AT&T, Verizon puts some new 5G on hiatus after airlines sound the alarm – Twin Cities


AT&T and Verizon will delay the launch of new wireless service near major airports after the country’s largest airlines said the service would disrupt flight technology and cause widespread flight disruptions.

The decision by the companies came on Tuesday, when the Biden administration intervened so that the broker tried to mediate a settlement between the telecommunications companies and the airlines about the roll-out of a new 5G service.

The companies said they will launch 5G or fifth-generation service on Wednesday, but they will delay the ignition of 5G cell towers within a 2-mile radius of runways designated by federal officials. They did not say how long they would keep these towers inactive.

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 the roll-out of wireless towers to take place as planned.” He said the administration will continue to work on a permanent solution.

Even with the concession from the telecommunications companies, federal officials said there could be some cancellations and delays due to equipment restrictions on certain aircraft. Delta Air Lines also said there could be problems with flights operating in bad weather due to airport restrictions issued by regulators last week when the 5G rollout appeared to be on schedule.

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 altitude of the aircraft above the ground. Altimeters are used to help pilots land when visibility is poor and they link to other systems on aircraft.

AT&T and Verizon say their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics and that the technology will be safely used in 40 other countries.

However, the CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines, including American, Delta, United and Southwest, say 5G will be more disruptive than previously thought. This is because dozens of major airports were subject to flight restrictions announced last week by the Federal Aviation Administration if the 5G service was deployed nearby. The CEOs added that these restrictions would not be limited to times when visibility is poor.

“Unless our large hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of travelers and shipping will essentially be grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be canceled, redirects or delays, “CEOs said in a letter Monday to federal officials.” To be honest, the nation’s trade will stall. “

The showdown between the aviation and telecommunications industry and their rival regulators – the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees radio spectrum – threatened to further disrupt the aviation industry, which has been hit by the pandemic for nearly two years.

This was a crisis that was going on for many years.

The airlines and the FAA say they have tried to alert about potential interference from the 5G C-Band, but the FCC ignored them.

Telecommunications, the FCC and their proponents claim that C-Band and flight altimeters operate far enough apart on the radio spectrum to avoid interference. They also say that the aviation industry has known about C-Band technology for several years but did nothing to prepare – airlines chose not to upgrade altimeters that could be subject to interference, and the FAA failed to start measuring equipment on fly before the last couple. weeks.

Randall Berry, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern University, compared the interference problem to two overlapping stations on the radio. The FCC-specific separation “may be enough for some (altimeters), but not for others,” he said.

One solution could be to equip all altimeters with good filters against interference, Berry said, though there could be a battle over who pays for that work – airlines or telecommunications companies.

After rival T-Mobile got what is called the mid-band spectrum from their acquisition of Sprint, AT&T and Verizon spent tens of billions of dollars on the C-Band spectrum at a government auction run by the FCC to support their own mid-band needs. , then spent billions more on building new networks, which they planned to launch in early December.

However, in response to concerns from the airlines, they initially agreed to postpone the route until early January.

Late New Year’s Eve, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson asked the companies for another delay, warning of “unacceptable disruption” of air traffic.

AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg rejected the request in a letter that had a scolding, even mocking tone. But they had other thoughts after intervention that reached the White House. The CEOs agreed to the second, shorter delay, but suggested there would be no more compromises.

In that agreement, the telecommunications companies agreed to reduce the power of their network near 50 airports for six months, corresponding to wireless restrictions in France. In return, the FAA and the Department of Transportation did not further promise to oppose the rollout of the 5G C-Band.

Biden also praised this agreement, but the airlines were not happy with the agreement and considered it a victory for the telecommunications companies, which did not adequately address their concerns.


Associated Press Writers Tali Arbel in New York and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this story.

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