AT&T and Verizon will delay 5G expansion over aircraft interference concerns

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AT&T and Verizon won’t start rolling out their C-band 5G service on January 5th after all. The carriers have agreed to comply with a request from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department to push back their 5G expansion by two more weeks. Authorities asked the companies for extra time to investigate concerns regarding possible interference with aircraft systems and electronics. 

Both AT&T and Verizon were supposed to to roll out their potentially faster C-band service using newly purchased frequencies back in December, but they held off on the expansion as requested by the Federal Aviation Administration. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are worried that the new frequencies are too close to those used by airplanes’ radar altimeter, which provides data on the distance between the plane and the ground. Interferences could then lead to unsafe landings. Wireless industry giants argue, however, that the C-band service’s powers are low enough and that the gap in frequencies is large enough to prevent interference. 

Shortly before the supposed January 5th rollout, the agencies asked the carriers for a delay of two more weeks to look into the issue. They initially rejected the authorities’ call for an additional delay, issuing a joint letter that says honoring the request would be to the “detriment” of customers. The carriers tried to negotiate a compromise instead and told authorities that they’re open to a six-month pause in deployment near some airports.

It’s unclear what changed the companies’ minds, but both have agreed to put a pause on their plans for now.

A Verizon spokesperson told Engadget in a statement:

“We’ve agreed to a two-week delay which promises the certainty of bringing this nation our game-changing 5G network in January, delivered over America’s best and most reliable wireless network.”

An AT&T spokesperson sent us a similar response:

“At Secretary Buttigieg’s request, we have voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay of our deployment of C-Band 5G services. We also remain committed to the six-month protection zone mitigations we outlined in our letter. We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues.”

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