AT&T, Verizon Pause 5G After Airlines Raise Alarm

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AT&T will hold off on rolling out 5G within two miles of airports when the rest of its 5G network goes live Wednesday, January 19, 2022.

“At our sole discretion, we have voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment since they have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” an AT&T spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY Tuesday. “We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

On Monday, the CEOs of the nation’s largest airlines and shipping carriers asked for “immediate intervention” to block AT&T and Verizon from launching part of their highly anticipated 5G network within two miles of airports.

At issue is 5G’s C-Band, which wireless carriers invested billions on last year. Nationwide rollout is slated to begin Wednesday, but industry group Airlines for America warned the frequency could interfere with devices that measure airplane altitude and impact safety.

“Airplane manufacturers have informed us that there are huge swaths of the operating fleet that may need to be indefinitely grounded,” Airlines for America wrote Monday in a letter signed by the CEOs of Delta, American, United, Southwest, FedEx, UPS, and more, who serve on the group’s board.

“The ripple effects across both passenger and cargo operations, our workforce and the broader economy are simply incalculable,” the letter continued. “Every one of the passenger and cargo carriers will be struggling to get people, shipments, planes, and crews where they need to be. To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”

The letter was sent “with urgency” to the heads of the Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission, and National Economic Council and asked for “whatever action necessary to ensure that 5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is “focused” on finding a solution within the next 24 hours.

“We certainly understand what’s at stake for both industries. … Our objective is, of course, to reach a solution around 5G deployment that maintains the highest level of safety while minimizing disruptions to passengers,” she said during a Tuesday press briefing. “Everyone from Secretary Pete Buttigieg to members of our economic team is closely engaged in these discussions.”

The FAA is studying the potential impacts of 5G on flights and has preemptively ordered some Boeing 787 operators to take extra precautions when landing.

Wednesday’s expected rollout had already been pushed back two weeks at the request of FAA Administrator Stephen M. Dickson and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to avoid “unacceptable disruption” to aviation.

“With safety as its core mission, the FAA will continue to ensure that the traveling public is safe as wireless companies deploy 5G,” the FAA said in a statement. “The FAA continues to work with the aviation industry and wireless companies to try to limit 5G-related flight delays and cancellations.”

AT&T and Verizon have stood by the safety of 5G.

“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” AT&T’s statement said.

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