Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns
from the regulatory-shenanigans dept
We’d already noted how the FAA had been making some shaky claims about how 5G deployments in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz “C-Band” spectrum range posed safety threats to airline safety. More specifically, the FAA claims operating in this band poses a potential interference problem for airline altimeters. The problem: FCC data, and data from upwards of 40 countries where 5G is already deployed in this band, suggest the concerns are baseless, and that the FCC’s decision to set aside a 220 MHz unused guard band to act as a buffer was more than enough to prevent any issues whatsoever.
It’s been a bit of a weird story given the FAA’s own documents have suggested that there isn’t a problem. And the FAA, instead of initially working transparently with the FCC (the regulator with specific expertise on this kind of stuff), instead spent the last few months leaking scary stories to the press. The FAA then issued an order pausing all 5G deployment in this C-Band.
Deployment in this band matters to you because U.S. 5G performance has been largely mediocre, in large part because of our failure to make middle-band spectrum available for use. We’ve got plenty of high-band spectrum (high speeds, but limited range and poor building wall penetration) and lots of low-band spectrum (great range but slower speeds), but not much in the middle (a decent combination of speed, penetration, and range). Verizon and AT&T recently paid $70 billion to deploy this spectrum, and aren’t keen on any additional delays for obvious reasons.
The two companies had already agreed to a 30-day deployment pause, and to lower the power of transmissions at this range. But in a letter to the FAA last week, the two balked at any additional, prolonged delays:
“At its core, your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies? multi-billion dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion?s share of the U.S. population to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years. Even worse, the proposal is directed to only two companies, regardless of the terms of licenses auctioned and granted, and to the exception of every other company and industry within the purview of the FCC.”
AT&T and Verizon did agree to avoid deploying 5G around any airports for six months in a bid to mirror select exclusion zones currently adopted in places like France. Again, the altimeters and landing guidance systems the FAA is concerned about don’t actually operate in this band, and the existing buffer and exclusion zones means transmissions shouldn’t get anywhere close to causing a problem. But that doesn’t seem to matter much to the FAA, which seems excited to flex its regulatory muscle here instead of working transparently and collaboratively with the agency that actually knows how these systems work (the FCC, a reality just reiterated by the courts).