Verizon, AT&T Delay 5G Due To Ongoing Scuff Up Over Airplane Interference

from the dysfunction-junction dept

Late last year, we noted how the FAA and the FCC (the agency that actually knows how spectrum works) had gotten into a bit of an ugly tussle over the FAA’s claim that 5G could harm air travel safety.

The FAA claimed that deploying 5G in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz “C-Band” would cause interference with certain radio altimeters. But the FCC conducted its own study showing minimal issues, and pointed to the more than 40 countries have deployed 5G in this bandwidth with no evidence of harm. Telecom lawyer Harold Feld had a detailed post on this if you’re interested in the particulars:

…the technical evidence on which the FAA bases its interference concerns have a lot of problems — not least of which that about 40 other countries operate similar 5G deployments in the same C-Band without any interference showing up. Either physics works differently in the U.S., or the report at the center of this controversy needs to explain why this hasn’t shown up in any other country where deployments are either authorized or have already taken place. 

This being about human lives, caution has generally prevailed, and AT&T and Verizon have promised to further delay the deployment of C band 5G service near airports until July 2023, giving the airline industry more time to retrofit any problematic altimeters. The airline industry still isn’t happy about it, claiming the entire thing is being rushed due to pressure from telecom companies:

“It is not at all clear that (air travel) carriers can meet what appears to be an arbitrary deadline,” trade group CEO Nicholas Calio said in a letter to Nolen. He said safety is jeopardized “by the rushed approach to avionics modifications amid pressure from the telecommunications companies,” and warned that if replacement parts aren’t ready in time, airline service could be disrupted.

AT&T and Verizon, which paid $45.45 billion and $23.41 billion respectively last year for C-band spectrum, very much want to get this spectrum deployed and in use (especially considering that U.S. 5G has generally underperformed so far). Much of this consternation is over who pays for these equipment upgrades (the airline industry has long wanted telecom companies to foot the bill, to no avail).

At the heart of this persists two government agencies that apparently can’t work well together. The FCC’s multi-year old reports on this issue say there wasn’t much of an issue. The FAA, in contrast, took to doing things like leaking scary stories to the Wall Street Journal instead of working with the FCC (again, the agency with the engineering expertise in how these things work).

Throw in some supply chain headaches and you’ve got a bit of a mess. So, again, taking time to do this correctly is important because of the fact that human lives are at stake, but this still wound up being way more avoidably stupid and complicated than it needed to be for a long list of reasons.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “Verizon, AT&T Delay 5G Due To Ongoing Scuff Up Over Airplane Interference”

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Naughty Autie says:

When I first read the headline of this article, I was surprised because I know that the FAA now leaves bans on mobile devices up the individual airlines, and 5G is no more disruptive than 4G. And then I read that AT&T and Verizon, two of the biggest hindrances of network rollout in the States, are involved. It honestly seems to me that some people’s modus operandi is lying, and then doubling down and doing their best to hide the evidence whenever called out on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

and yet again, the rest of the world uses 5G while the USA sits back, thumbs up asses, brains in neutral and lets the dominating industries continue to make a fortune off of the people, ably helped by corrupt politicians! when everyone else, everywhere, knows full well that 5G does NOT interfere with aircraft, this can only be so as to keep the industries from doing upgrades that should have done and finished with!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

The biggest thing I always like to bring up is the FAA did not start real-world testing until after the period for objections to come up, And the issue is radios that don’t adequately shield themselves from out of band transmissions that never should have been approved by the FAA for use in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Similar != Same

“about 40 other countries operate similar 5G deployments”
Similar is not “Same”
EU uses 3400Mhz to 3800Mhz for 5G
US uses 3700Mhz to 3980Mhz for 5G
Radio Altimeters operate between 4200Mhz and 4400Mhz

So EU has a 400Mhz buffer where in the US we only have a 200Mhz buffer. Had the US used the same frequencies as the EU we would not have an issue here either.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:


That’s not an issue though: on paper, the FCC calls for a 200MHz buffer, but in practice, everyone has agreed to a 400MHz buffer.

And the FAA is talking about this like it’s some new thing.

For perspective: the FAA formed in 1958. No altimeters having this issue should have been approved by them after 1988. The band was well defined by 1998, including intention to move digital transmission into the C-band. During the interim, this band was used by AV content distributors (satellite, cable, etc.) with the understanding that it would eventually come up for auction for digital transmission services.

Then the FCC waited 22 years before announcing notice of the auction.

So: FAA existed for 30 years during which altimeters were made that could have issues here. At the end of that 30 years, the FAA should have stopped certifying ANY altimeters with issues, and any airplane undergoing modifications should have been required to upgrade to a certified altimeter. This should have been complete by 1998. Since it wasn’t, the FCC waited another 22 years before doing anything.

Think about that: the issue had been known for half the lifetime of the FAA before the bandwidth was allocated.

Even after the FAA dropped the ball the FIRST time, they should have been able to clean things up long before the spectrum came up for auction.

jimbo says:

Who is financially responsible

it seems to me that the airlines should be paying Verizon and ATT money for lost usage of the spectrum which they have paid for. Not paying for aircraft upgrades which should have been done 20 years ago! Furthermore, the radio altimeter suppliers should be providing free replacements to the airlines.

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