Airport 5G Towers Switched Off In Temporary Aviation Compromise

AT&T and Verizon agree to temporarily switch off 5G towers near certain airports, as operators and FCC hit out at FAA inaction

US mobile operators have agreed once again to compromise over their 5G networks, after months of agitation from the US aviation industry.

AT&T and Verizon Communications on Tuesday agreed to temporarily halt turning on some mobile towers near key airports in order to avert a threatened disruption to US flights, Reuters reported.

This is the third time the two American mobile operators have had to compromise over the new C-Band 5G wireless service to accommodate US aviation concerns. The operators in November postponed deployment by 30 days until 5 January, and then agreed to delay deployment until 19 January.

Airport switch off

Now both operators agreed to switch off 5G towers near selected US airports for what is thought to be a six month period, after the 5G networks are switched on today 19 January.

Both Verizon and AT&T will launch the 5G service in the rest of the US.

“We recognise the economic importance of expanding 5G, and we appreciate the wireless companies working with us to protect the flying public and the country’s supply chain,” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement.

“The complex US airspace leads the world in safety because of our high standards for aviation, and we will maintain this commitment as wireless companies deploy 5G,” he added.

President Biden also welcomed the move by both operators.

“I want to thank Verizon and AT&T for agreeing to delay 5G deployment around key airports and to continue working with the Department of Transportation on safe 5G deployment at this limited set of locations,” he said.

“This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations, and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled,” the President added.

Frustration with FAA

But it is clear there is a great deal of frustration from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and both mobile operators, over the tactics of the US aviation industry, and the tardy response from US FAA.

“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 utilised the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” AT&T was quoted by CNBC as saying in a statement.

“We are frustrated by the Federal Aviation Administration’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 added in the statement.

Verizon meanwhile added it would “voluntarily” limit the 5G network near airports.

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” it said.

And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also made clear its frustration with the FAA and the US aviation industry in general.

“Next-generation 5G technologies will be the backbone of our economic future,” said FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today’s agreement makes it possible to bring this technology to millions more consumers and businesses throughout the country starting tomorrow using the C-band.”

“This is welcome news because we know that deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world,” said Rosenworcel.

“The FAA has a process in place to assess altimeter performance in the 5G environment and resolve any remaining concerns,” she added. “It is essential that the FAA now complete this process with both care and speed.”

No evidence

The FCC reviewed competing industry studies about the safety risks and said in a March 2020 order that “well-designed equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference)”.

The CTIA, which represents network operators, said operators can use C-band spectrum “without causing harmful interference to aviation equipment”.

The aviation concerns are also frustrating industry experts, who have noted that numerous 5G networks are already safely operating in the band in 40 countries, without a single report of 5G causing harmful interference with air traffic of any kind.

Indeed, experts point out there does not seem to be any valid scientific or engineering basis to justify a 5G delay, and there is overwhelming evidence that 5G operates safely in the C-Band without causing harmful interference to air traffic.

The fact 5G signals in this C-band spectrum have been operating in many countries for some time – countries in which US airlines fly in and out of every day, means the aviation sector would have seen a problem long before now.

And the US already has an added a layer of protection called a guard band, that is hundreds of times greater than the separation that exists between wireless and other critical spectrum users.