AT&T and Verizon might delay 5G expansion again over FAA concerns

For the past month, AT&T and Verizon have been holding off on rolling out potentially faster C-band 5G service, due to safety concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration. Now, it looks like an additional delay could be in store, once again over FAA concerns. The two major carriers had been scheduled on December 5 to use newly purchased frequencies to roll out C-band service, but delayed the launch to January 5 after the Department of Transportation raised concerns related to possible interference. According to a letter obtained by Reuters, the Transportation Department and FAA are now asking for up to two more weeks to study the issue.

In the letter, sent by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson to the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon, the pair asked for a delay of “no more than two weeks.” The two framed the request as part of a “proposal as a near-term solution for advancing the co-existence of 5G deployment in the C-Band and safe flight operations,” according to Reuters

At issue until now has been the possibility that pilots will use poor-weather safety system that could conflict with this new C-band 5G technology. The FAA would ultimately like to enact regulations that bar pilots from using such systems, The Wall Street Journal reported in November. Aviation officials have claimed that C-band 5G has the potential to interfere with flights in and around the nearly four dozen cities where C-band towers are located. Telecoms have claimed there is no evidence that C-band 5G will jeopardize flight safety.

In the framework that Reuters describes in its report, the FAA would designate “priority” airports where “a buffer zone would permit aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential.”

Reuters says that both companies say they have received the letter. But they have so far stopped short of agreeing to an additional two-week delay. Needless to say, this postponement would come as unwelcome news to both carriers. Reuters reports that on Friday, the companies accused the aviation industry of holding the C-band expansion “hostage until the wireless industry agrees to cover the costs of upgrading any obsolete altimeters.”

And in a statement to Insider on Saturday, a Verizon spokesperson said: “If the airlines are so concerned about flight cancellations related to 5G, they should really look at their track record over the past two weeks,” referring to a wave of recent cancellations amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. “This industry which got a $54 billion taxpayer-funded, government bail out over the past couple years clearly has much bigger issues to worry about.”

As frustrated as executives from the two carriers might be, however, as Reuters notes the companies agreed to six months of precautionary measures when they purchased the C-band spectrum in early 2021.

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