5G airplane

Industry Responds to Transportation’s Latest 5G Delay

By Stephen Keegan, Counsel, Government Affairs, WIA

Wireless operators AT&T and Verizon have agreed to voluntarily delay deployments of certain radios that will operate in the C-Band (frequencies between 3.7-3.98 GHz) near airports to January 19, 2022, giving aviation regulators two additional weeks to evaluate potential interference between C-Band operations and older radio altimeters.  The mobile operators have already voluntarily delayed C-Band operations into the new year at the request of the FAA in November 2021.  However, in a letter dated December 31, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson requested that AT&T and Verizon go beyond their voluntary delay of deployments in the Band to determine what impact, if any, the new infrastructure would have on aviation equipment.

AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg pushed back against the eleventh-hour plea, highlighting the aviation industry’s ample opportunity to raise concerns during the two-year period this band was being considered by the FCC.  But, in their commitment to safety and cooperation, the carriers offered to delay scheduled deployments in the C-Band near airports for an additional six months, despite the thousands of manhours and billions of dollars licensees had spent to bring these radios online by January 5.

In their letter to the DOT and FAA, AT&T and Verizon reiterated that the FCC is the primary agency in charge of ensuring no harmful interference occurs between radio devices, as noted recently by WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein in an opinion coauthored by fellow former FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly.  The operators said that the expert agency on spectrum coordination had good reasoning to allow the planned deployments to move forward:

Spectrum interference disputes typically involve simultaneous transmissions on the same frequencies. But radio altimeters do not operate on, or anywhere near, the C-Band frequencies. Rather, they operate in a frequency band (4.2-4.4 GHz) that is separated by at least 400 megahertz from the C-Band frequencies (3.7-3.8 MHz (sic)) that AT&T and Verizon will begin using in 2022 and at least 220 megahertz from any C-Band frequency authorized for use in the future. This helps explain why C-Band 5G service and aviation operations already coexist in nearly 40 other countries where C-Band spectrum has been deployed without any negative impact on aviation.

The carriers and regulators were able to come to an agreement late on January 3, with providers agreeing to pause the deployments until January 19 while FAA and DOT take steps to prevent interference with equipment.  In their response to the carrier’s letter, transportation officials noted they will not seek any further delays, barring “unforeseen aviation safety issues.”  This agreement, lauded by President Biden, may represent an end to the back and forth between airline regulators and telecommunications providers.