The AT&T and Verizon plan to mitigate 5G risk

This after the FCC put the telecoms industry on notice that it will not tolerate any deployments that interfere with aviation or public safety services.
26 November 2021

With Covid-19 vaccinations on the rise and Americans now traveling more freely, U.S. airports and airlines are expecting millions more passengers this holiday season compared to 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

AT&T and Verizon have agreed to new preventive measures to address concerns caused by the deployment of 5G in close proximity to sensitive aircraft electronics, impacting air safety. Companies like Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Intel, have also agreed to a set of precautions that AT&T said will “ensure that all parties at the table are aligned from a safety perspective,” in a statement.

5G wireless services promise to bring a new generation of high-speed, high-capacity wireless connectivity. This transition will be made possible by deploying hundreds of thousands — even millions — of low-power, small cells in neighborhoods and cities nationwide. The United States is currently implementing 5G in specific cities throughout the country. 

This network will not only revolutionize the telecommunications industry; this dramatic change will significantly impact the aviation industry, which faces a severe problem with interference to its GPS signals from these new 5G transmitters.  

AT&T and Verizon to address the 5G impact on air travel

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have been working together to address the impact of new 5G services on air travel. 

The DOT has held several workshops and meetings with industry stakeholders, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., to identify potential risks posed by 5G services to aircraft operations, possible mitigations for these risks, and next steps in the process.

AT&T and Verizon Plan to Mitigate 5G Risk

Guests experience the Netgear: Video Lag 4g/5g Comparison demo at AT&T SHAPE at Warner Bros. Studios in 2019. (Photo by Phillip Faraone / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Interference with aviation services

The move comes after the FCC put the industry on notice that it will not tolerate any deployments that interfere with aviation services or public safety communications. The measures outlined in a memorandum released by the FCC aim to protect against the potential impact that the rollout of next-generation mobile networks could have on aviation’s NextGen air traffic control system.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission announced that AT&T and Verizon would take additional steps to address concerns that their proposed 5G wireless networks would interfere with airplane transmissions. “The companies agreed to new rules for 5G airwaves, including more monitoring and sharing data on potential interference,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The danger of 5G transmissions

Air carriers, starting with Boeing, have been warning federal officials of the danger that 5G transmissions in the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz frequency range – the “C-band”, may deliver disruptive and incorrect readings from commercial and military radar altimeters since at least 2017.

The FCC’s new cell tower siting rules appear to have succeeded in getting AT&T and Verizon Wireless to agree to the agency’s air-safety recommendations. According to a report, the two carriers have agreed to take precautions such as burying some equipment, and keeping others at least six feet away from sidewalks and other public spaces.

AT&T and Verizon Plan to Mitigate 5G Risk

The new 5G cellular network will substantially increase cellular network speeds, opening up new markets for business and individuals. (Photo by GEORGE FREY / AFP)

Postponing airwaves

Other service providers had previously announced that they would postpone airwaves for a month until early January 2022, in response to the concerns. In a February auction, the FCC granted wireless network providers access to the radio bands.  AT&T devoted US$23 billion to the FCC auction while Verizon spent US$45 billion on the airwaves.

AT&T said in a statement that they have voluntarily agreed to specific precautionary protection measures.  “Though there is no credible evidence that a legitimate interference problem exists, we agreed to take these additional steps to alleviate any safety concerns,” said the company.

AT&T and Verizon are racing to catch up to TMobile US Inc., which has a year-long lead in offering its 5G network, using other airwaves that are not suspected of causing interference.