5G deployment delayed again as US airlines update radio technology

20 Jun 2022

Image: © Alexey Novikov/Stock.adobe.com

Verizon and AT&T are delaying certain 5G deployment in the US for another year, but some aren’t happy about it.

US mobile networks Verizon and AT&T have agreed to delay deployment of some 5G C-band wireless communications until July 2023 after talks with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

This will give airlines more time to retrofit radio altimeters and ensure they won’t face interference from the next-generation networks.

An agreement was made in January to delay deployment until next month to give airlines time to update technology because of the potential impact of 5G on flight signals. The FAA has now confirmed a new timeline that extends the mitigation measure for another year.

“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist,” said acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen. “We appreciate the willingness of Verizon and AT&T to continue this important and productive collaboration with the aviation industry.”

The FAA said that the phased approach requires operators of regional aircraft with radio altimeters most susceptible to interference to retrofit them with radio frequency filters by the end of 2022. Work has already begun and will continue on an “expedited basis”, it added.

This means that mobile networks can expect to fully deploy their 5G C-band networks with minimal restrictions in urban areas, including near airports, by next year.

5G networks

Verizon released a statement to say that the move – a result of months of talks between the FAA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the aviation industry – “sets the stage for continued, robust 5G deployment”.

“Today’s announcement identifies a path forward that will enable Verizon to make full use of our C-band spectrum for 5G around airports on an accelerated and defined schedule,” the telecoms company wrote.

“We will lift the voluntary limitations on our 5G network deployment around airports in a staged approach over the coming months meaning even more consumers and businesses will benefit from the tremendous capabilities of 5G technology.”

AT&T added that it had voluntarily “chosen in good faith to implement these more tailored precautionary measures so that airlines have additional time to retrofit equipment”, according to Reuters.

However, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr called out the approach of the FAA (which is part of the US Department of Transport) as “turbulent and irregular”.

“Congress authorised the FCC, not the Department of Transport, to set 5G power and operating rules. Yet the Department of Transport just supplanted the FCC’s regime through a closed-door deal,” Carr tweeted.

The International Air Transport Association, a global trade association of airlines, also issued a statement to express its “deep disappointment” at the new 5G aircraft retrofit timetable announced by the FAA.

“No industry consensus exists that it is doable. Stakeholders need to work together to define solutions and deadlines that preserve safety and reflect reality,” it tweeted.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic