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Cell Companies Agree to 11th Hour Delay of 5G Expansion

Two cellular communications providers say they will delay turning on new 5G frequencies after airlines threatened legal action.
AT&T and Verzion will delay a massive expansion of 5G cellular communications service for two weeks, following a request by the U.S. Department of Transportation, aviation unions and stakeholder organizations.


Roll Call reports the two companies will push back their deployment until January 19, 2022, giving the government additional time to investigate how the frequencies may affect radio altimeters.

Delay Comes After Pleas from Government and Airline Partners

While airlines have been asking for the Transportation Department and the Federal Communications Commission to delay the planned frequency expansion of 5G service purchased by AT&T and Verizon, the companies were prepared to activate them on January 5, 2022. In their rebuttal to a letter signed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration head Steve Dickson, the two companies pointed to France as an example of safe operations with aircraft, noting that the frequencies have been operating there for years without issue.


The original plan was quickly abandoned when several airlines threatened legal action to delay the bandwidth launch. Despite dealing with cancellations due to weather and a lack of staffing, the carriers reportedly planned an emergency filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals to stop the action.


Under the tentative agreement with the Transportation Department, the two cellular providers will push back the expansion to allow the FAA to investigate how the frequencies affect radar altimeters. In addition, both AT&T and Verizon will agree to buffer zones around select airports, so that the additional bandwidth won’t affect aircraft operations.


If the agreement wasn’t reached, both Airlines for America and the Transportation Department warned there could be major disruption to American aviation infrastructure. The effects could have included delayed or cancelled flights, especially in inclement weather where pilots require the help of instruments for safe landings.


In a statement, the FAA expressed thanks to AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to the new measures in order to protect aviation infrastructure.


“Safety is the core of our mission and this guides all of our decisions,” the statement reads. “The FAA thanks AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to a voluntary delay and for their proposed mitigations. We look forward to using the additional time and space to reduce flight disruptions associated with this 5G deployment.”


Temporary Reprieve Doesn’t End 5G Spectrum Usage

While the two companies will push back the full deployment of additional 5G space, airlines still have a limited time to determine a solution to the problem. Once the moratorium is lifted, the two companies plan on taking full use of the $80 billion in spectrum space they purchased to improve cellular connectivity and speed throughout the U.S.


Feature image courtesy; Igor on Unsplash

DManzaluni January 5, 2022

I'd still like to know for sure whether this is or isn't another case of crying wolf. We all remember the last time the airlines rolled out this arugument that using cellphones or wifi would immediately cause planes to fall out of the sky. That position persisted for years before someone noticed pilots etc using cellular ipads as navigational aids!

Is this point why the delay is only 2 weeks?