Update (Jan. 4, 2021): A day after Verizon and AT&T announced they were rejecting a request from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) to delay its 5G rollout, the companies reversed course Monday night. In a statement, AT&T announced they will be delaying the rollout for two more weeks. AT&T also repeated its promise to further reduce power of the networks around airports for six months to give regulators more time to study potential interference with aviation.
“We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues,” and AT&T spokeswoman said in the statement.
Original Story (Jan. 3, 2021): Wireless telecommunications giants Verizon and AT&T released a joint letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson Sunday. In the letter, the companies rejected a request from the FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) to further delay the companies’ plans to use C-Band spectrum for 5G wireless services. The rollout of services is set for Wednesday.
The FAA and DOT request for a delay sought to address concerns brought by U.S. airlines that a new 5G wireless service could harm aviation. Last month, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said the rollout could delay, divert or cancel about 4% of daily flights and cost hundreds of thousands of passengers $1.6 billion annually in delays.
The FAA and DOT followed up on those concerns by writing to AT&T and Verizon directly last Friday. In the letter, the agencies’ heads said failing to delay the rollout would result in “widespread and unacceptable disruption as airplanes divert to other cities or flights are canceled, causing ripple effects.” The letter came as airlines were already struggling with Omicron-fueled staffing shortages and bad weather.
“As part of this proposal, we ask that your companies continue to pause introducing commercial C-Band service for an additional short period of no more than two weeks beyond the currently scheduled deployment date of Jan. 5,” the FAA and DOT heads wrote. “This will allow for 5G C-band to deploy… by the end of March 2022, barring unforeseen technical challenges or new safety concerns.”
In their response letter, AT&T CEO John Stanley and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg noted “C-Band 5G service and aviation operations already coexist in nearly 40 other countries where C-Band spectrum has been deployed without any negative impact on aviation.” They also pointed out they had already delayed the rollout by 30 days.
Though they won’t delay delay the rollout, the CEOs did agree to clamp down on 5G services around busy runways for the next six months.
“These additional voluntary measures will give the FAA and the aviation industry ample opportunity to conduct any further studies and remediate any altimeters that might not meet current standards, as was originally recommended by the FCC in February 2020,” AT&T and Verizon wrote in the letter, according to the New York Times. “We trust they are sufficient to allay any remaining concerns expressed in your Dec. 31 letter.”