Biden says telecoms deal avoids flight disruptions


AT&T and Verizon have agreed to delay the launch of a new 5G service tranche for two weeks after airlines and the national aviation regulator complained about potential interference with systems on board planes.

President Joe Biden said the deal reached on Monday would help avoid further disruption to flights that bad weather and the coronavirus outbreak have already delayed and canceled by the thousands in recent days.

Telecommunications giants agreed to delay the planned launch of the new 5G C-Band component, which promises faster speeds for customers, on Wednesday in order to implement changes around airports. They still reject concerns that this could adversely affect aircraft equipment.

The companies have already postponed the C-band rollout for a month when, over the weekend, they rejected a request by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration chief to delay the launch again.

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Under Monday’s deal, the companies also agreed to cut power on their new networks near major airports for six months. This will give the FAA more time to investigate potential interference with aviation.

“This agreement ensures that there will be no disruption to flight operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to significantly reduce disruption to flight operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on January 19.” Biden said in a statement Tuesday.

Here’s a look at what happened and what’s next for wireless customers and air travelers.


So far, AT&T and Verizon’s 5G service hasn’t been much different from the existing 4G service for most customers. The new segment of radio frequencies called C-Band, a “mid-range” spectrum, could mean faster signals over large areas for many customers. T-Mobile already has huge expanses of mid-band spectrum.

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Wireless carriers have spent tens of billions of dollars in recent years to obtain government spectrum licenses and deploy 5G service. However, their plan to use C-band met with stiff opposition from airlines and aviation groups.


U.S. airlines say wireless use of the C-Band segment of the spectrum could interfere with altimeters, radio devices that measure an aircraft’s height above the ground. The Airlines for America trade group has said airlines could be forced to cancel or hijack thousands of flights as a safety measure.



The Federal Communications Commission, which manages radio spectrum auctions, has determined that C-band can be used safely near air traffic. The FCC established in 2020 a buffer zone between the 5G band and the spectrum used by airplanes to resolve any safety concerns.

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But Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, whose agency is responsible for aviation safety, saw a potential problem. On Friday, they asked AT&T and Verizon to suspend 5G C-band activation near an unknown number of “priority airports” while the FAA conducts a further study.


They dismissed the concerns. Wireless industry trade group CTIA notes that approximately 40 countries have deployed the C-Band component of 5G without reporting harmful interference to aircraft equipment.

But AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg have offered to reduce the power of their 5G networks near airports, as France has done.

“The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France,” Stankey and Vestberg said in a letter to Buttigieg and Dickson on Sunday. “If American airlines are allowed to operate daily flights in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States. “

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Although they have taken steps to appease federal officials, Telecom is still bickering with airlines, which have canceled more than 10,000 U.S. flights since Christmas Eve due to bad weather and labor shortages. work caused by COVID-19.

“While the airline industry faces many challenges, 5G is not one of them,” Vestberg said in a corporate note on Tuesday.


Under the deal, the FAA will conduct an investigation to find out. The FAA will allow planes with accurate and reliable altimeters to operate around high power 5G. But planes with older altimeters will not be allowed to land in low visibility conditions.


The two-week delay will give the FAA and businesses time to implement the deal.

AT&T and Verizon will be licensed to launch C-Band service this month under previously granted FCC licenses. Airlines have until Friday to give the companies a list of up to 50 airports where they believe the power of the C-Band service should be reduced until July 5.

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Until July, Telecom will discuss with the FAA and airlines potential long-term measures regarding 5G service near airports. However, under the terms of the deal with the FAA, AT&T and Verizon will have exclusive authority to decide whether any service changes will be made.

“We felt it was the right thing for the flying public, which includes our customers and all of us, to give the FAA some time to resolve its issues with the aviation community and therefore avoid further disturbing aircraft. passengers with an additional flight. delays, ”Vestberg said in his memo.

Nicholas Calio, chairman of the airlines business group, was more low-key in his comments on the deal, though he thanked federal officials for making the deal with AT&T and Verizon.

“Safety is and always will be the top priority for US airlines. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that the new 5G service can safely coexist with aviation, ”Calio said.

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The FAA issued a brief statement about the two-week delay, saying it looked forward to “using the extra time and space to reduce flight disruptions associated with this 5G deployment.”

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