US wireless operators move to allay 5G aviation fears


Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and UScellular have sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announcing voluntary commitments to meet aviation safety concerns

At the start of 2021, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon spent nearly $80 billion on C-band spectrum at the FCC’s 5G auction. This spectrum was pegged to be the focal point of the trio’s respective 5G networks, offering the ideal balance of high speed, low latency, and broad coverage.

By the start of 2022, however, a storm was brewing within the US aviation industry, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fearing that the new 5G spectrum could interfere with sensitive flight instrumentation, such as altimeters.

While most of the telecoms industry ­– and, indeed, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency – believes these fears to be largely unfounded, it did not stop the US mobile operators from initially delaying their initial 5G rollouts and limiting their deployments near airports.

The FAA, meanwhile, said that it would begin requiring updated altimeters that are unaffected by the C-band spectrum to be fitted in its commercial aircraft.

Since then, discussions between the aviation and telecoms industries have been ongoing. In February 2023, the FAA said that it was now formally engaged in discussions with the nation’s leading wireless providers, saying they hoped to reach an amiable solution by July.

Now, it appears that just such a conclusion has been reached, with the mobile operators sending a joint letter to the FCC, having agreed voluntary concessions with the FAA to allay aviation safety worries.

“These voluntary commitments will support full-power deployments across C-Band, and are crafted to minimize the operational impact on our C-Band operations,” said the letter, signed by Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and UScellular.

Exactly what these commitments are is unclear, but sources suggest that they may last until 2028, with the FAA having initially sought concessions up to 2033.

In a statement, Verizon explained that the decision would ensure they were able to “fully use our C-band spectrum for 5G by the previously agreed to deadline of July 1.”

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