Explainer: Why are AT&T and Verizon delaying 5G near US airports? | Air industry | Top stories

Explainer: Why are AT&T and Verizon delaying 5G near US airports? | Air industry

| Breaking News Updates | World News

U.S. phone carriers AT&T and Verizon agreed on Tuesday to temporarily postpone the activation of some wireless towers near key airport runways to ease a looming aviation crisis caused by new 5G technology.

AT&T and Verizon will launch new 5G C-band wireless service on Wednesday, but agreed to delay some deployments near airports that threatened to lead to many flight cancellations.

The concession came after major airline executives wrote to the Biden administration on Monday asking it to intervene in AT&T and Verizon’s planned rollout of their 5G technology on Wednesday, warning of potential “catastrophic” effects if it were to. go forward.

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of travelers and shippers will be essentially grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, over 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subject to cancellations, diversions or delays,” the CEOs said.

The airline industry has warned that the new network, which will allow consumers much faster internet access, could interfere with sensitive aircraft instruments such as altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations. The airlines called on Sunday “for 5G to be implemented everywhere in the country, except within approximately 3.2 km of airport runways” at certain key airports.

AT&T and Verizon say their equipment won’t interfere with aircraft electronics and the technology is used safely in many other countries. Both companies confirmed to the Guardian that they voluntarily limit deployment near certain airports.

“We are frustrated with the FAA’s failure to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner. “, an AT&T spokesperson told the Guardian. “We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned, with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”

Here’s what you need to know about the controversy:

What is 5G?

5G is the latest generation of cellular networks, following 4G, which was introduced in late 2009 and is used on most US cell phones today. Almost every 10 years since 1980, a next-generation network has arrived, offering faster speeds and expanded capabilities.

At the simplest level, 1G enabled phone calls, 2G provided messaging and 3G provided Internet access. Today, on 4G, users can download apps, stream videos and more with relative ease and speed.

The fifth generation should offer new levels of speed – allowing, for example, to download a movie on your phone in seconds – and allow more devices to be connected to a network at once. The latter is increasingly important in our crowded cellular landscape. (Ever been to a concert or a stadium and couldn’t text?)

“These kinds of data rates could enable virtual reality applications or self-driving cars,” Harish Krishnaswamy, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University, told Live Science.

Why is the US airline industry concerned about 5G?

To execute the upgrade, cellular networks plan to move operations to a new band of radio frequencies called C-Band. Last year, Verizon and AT&T spent $67 billion acquiring the C-band spectrum licenses needed to upgrade their networks to 5G, according to Forbes.

But some aircraft regulators are concerned that aircraft radio altimeters, which measure a plane’s distance above ground to help pilots land in low-visibility situations and also operate on C-band frequencies, could be disrupted by 5G.

Can 5G and the aeronautics industry coexist?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and telecom carriers all agree that 5G and air travel can exist together. In fact, they already do so in nearly 40 countries.

The telecom companies pointed out that there have been no crashes in other countries where 5G is operational and that US airlines fly to those countries regularly.

The FAA also said “5G and aviation have safely co-existed in other countries.” Indeed, in those regions, “power levels were reduced around airports and industries worked together prior to deployment,” the agency said in a Jan. 3 statement.

So what is the problem in the United States?

Discussions about how the transition should take place in the United States had been simmering for years and have intensified in recent months.

Verizon and AT&T originally planned to launch 5G in December, but delayed the rollout until early January due to aviation industry concerns.

On January 3, the companies agreed to postpone the deployment for another two weeks, until January 19, to allow for further coordination.

The two telecom companies have proposed several measures to mitigate the possible impact of the switch to 5G, including reducing the power of their 5G around airports and heliports, and operating 5G service at lower power levels. nationwide for the first six months.

But as of January 17, business and the aviation industry still didn’t seem to be on the same page. The CEOs of 10 passenger and cargo airlines, including American, Delta, United and Southwest, have warned that 5G will be more disruptive than they originally thought, as dozens of major airports that were due to have buffer zones to avoid interference with aircraft would still be subject to flight restrictions. announced last week by the FAA. Airline CEOs have called for 5G to be banned within two miles of runways.

Why was this conflict not resolved earlier?

The airline industry and the FAA say they tried to sound the alarm about potential 5G C-band interference, but the FCC ignored them.

Telecoms, the FCC and their supporters claim that the aviation industry has known about C-Band technology for several years but has done nothing to prepare – airlines have chosen not to upgrade altimeters likely to be subject to interference, and the FAA has not begun monitoring the equipment. on planes until recent weeks.

Reuters contributed to this report

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