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.