AT&T and Verizon agreed to slightly delay plans to flip the switch on their new 5G spectrum on Thursday in order to massage the Federal Aviation Administration’s concerns about how the deployment might affect cockpit safety systems.
Prior to the announced delay, both networks had planned to deploy their new C-band spectrum on Dec. 5. While Verizon declined to give an exact date for when the new 5G wireless spectrum would officially launch, AT&T pegged its own rollout for Jan. 5.
In a statement confirming the pause, the Federal Communications Commission—the agency which regulates telecommunications in the U.S.—told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that aviation safety and technology are “...“national priorities, and with today’s announcement these companies have demonstrated their commitment to both.”
“The agencies said they would continue working closely together to ensure the U.S. keeps pace with the rest of the world regarding the latest communications technologies, without undue delay,” the statement continued.
At issue is the fact that some FAA officials fear that the new 5G signals—which travel at higher speeds and allow for greater bandwidth than their 4G LTE counterparts—could have the unintended consequence of interfering with certain automated cockpit systems.
Although the telecoms industry denies that there’s enough evidence to support the idea that 5G signals might disrupt flight equipment, the FAA was planning to make a big stink about it anyway prior to the announced postponements, and had reportedly been planning to issue a mandate telling flight crews to limit their use of the automated cockpit systems. Such limits, aviation industry officials told the Journal, could have led to “...disruptions to passenger and cargo flights in 46 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas where the towers are located.”
“It is critical that these discussions be informed by the science and the data,” AT&T said in a statement. “That is the only path to enabling experts and engineers to assess whether any legitimate coexistence issues exist.”
AT&T and Verizon have already deployed their 5G networks, but both carriers acquired C-band spectrum earlier this year. The C-band operates at lower frequency (3.7-4.2 GHz) but at a longer range than millimeter-wave spectrum (the super high frequency that enables gigabit speeds). The FAA’s issue with the C-band specifically is that it operates close to frequencies that airplane equipment operates in (4.2-4.4 GHz).