5G Rollout In US Postponed Due To Potential Interferance With Airplanes

5G won't be available at airports until a solution is found. Image: Maridav/Shutterstock.com

Two of the largest telecoms providers in the US have reluctantly agreed to delay the deployment of their new 5G networks at some US airports due to concerns that the technology could interfere with flight safety equipment. Both AT&T and Verizon were due to launch their 5G services nationwide today, January 19, yet altered their plans at the last moment after aviation industry officials said the technology could disrupt radio altimeters, which help aircraft land safely when visibility is low.

Providing faster speeds and broader coverage than its predecessors, 5G is a C-band service that occupies specific regions of the electromagnetic spectrum determined by the regulatory officials of each country. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has authorized 5G to operate between 3.7 and 3.98 gigahertz.

The problem, however, is that most radio altimeters fitted to aircraft – used to determine the height of an aircraft above ground – rely on frequencies that fall between 4.2 and 4.4 gigahertz. Leading airlines and plane manufacturers say this is dangerously close to the 5G frequency range, and that transponders located close to airports could prevent this vital safety equipment from working properly.

In a letter to US government officials – including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, and the heads of the FCC and FAA – the chief executives of several major airlines and shipping firms warned of “catastrophic disruption” to flights if 5G towers are allowed to operate near airports. They requested that no transponders located within 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) of an airport runway be switched on until a solution to this problem can be found.

In response, AT&T and Verizon announced that they would launch their 5G services nationwide but would temporarily halt the activation of certain towers that sit close to airports. Having already delayed the rollout twice in the past two months, the two telecoms giants vented their frustration at regulators’ failure to plan for the start of 5G.

"We are frustrated by the Federal Aviation Administration's [FAA] 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 said in a statement.

In Europe, for instance, 5G services operate at frequencies that are less likely to interfere with aircraft altimeters, while some countries have also implemented measures to limit the power of phone masts near airports. US telecoms firms say the FAA has had ample time to come up with a solution of its own, and clearly feel that the present situation could easily have been avoided.

Amid these safety concerns, the FAA has approved around 45 percent of commercial flights to continue to operate at airports that are close to 5G masts. In spite of this, however, several major international airlines – including Emirates, Air India, and Japan's All Nippon Airways – have suspended flights to the US due to the deployment of 5G near airports.



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