Despite pleas, ATT and Verizon forge ahead with 5G deployment

Despite requests from the government, the FAA, airlines and aircraft makers, Verizon and AT&T are not backing down 5G deployment schedule.
3 January 2022

An airplane departs Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP)

  • AT&T and Verizon Communications have rejected requests to delay the January 5 roll-out of the latest 5G wireless services
  • In a joint statement, both carriers said to delay would be an “irresponsible abdication of the operating control”
  • Telco companies cite France as an example of when 5G and aviation safety concerns can co-exist

Verizon Communications and AT&T have been working round the clock to deploy 5G wireless services in the US. The highly anticipated network service is expected to bring a whole new experience to both businesses and general consumers, particularly in terms of network connectivity.

5G deployment in the US has already faced numerous delays in recent times. From acquisitions of the technology being used for the wrong reasons to removing the reliance on the usage of China-based technologies, Verizon and AT&T felt the worse was finally over as the schedule to launch advanced 5G services had been fixed on January 5, 2021.

However, things are now taking another turn. US officials are concerned that the new 5G networks, which are scheduled to launch this week, will cause potentially damaging interference with sensitive aircraft electronics, including radio altimeters, that could disrupt flights of commercial, military, and private aircraft.

The FAA, Boeing, Airbus, and airlines trade group Airlines for America have requested both Verizon and AT&T to delay their 5G deployment. The US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has also asked for the latest delay in a letter to AT&T and Verizon.

The FAA in particular requested the telco companies to pause introducing commercial C-Band service for an additional brief period of no more than two weeks, beyond the currently scheduled deployment date. The concerns included 5G deployment potentially causing damaging interference with sensitive aircraft electronics, including radio altimeters, that could disrupt flights of commercial, military, and private aircraft.

Both Verizon and AT&T released a joint letter rejecting the request. “Agreeing to your proposal would not only be an unprecedented and unwarranted circumvention of the due process and checks and balances carefully crafted in the structure of our democracy, but an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks,” they said in a joint letter.

Those networks, it added, “are every bit as essential to our country’s economic vitality, public safety, and national interests as the airline industry.” The letter, seen by AFP, was signed by CEOs John Stankey of AT&T and Hans Vestberg of Verizon. They blamed the government’s last-minute request on what they suggested was a delay by the aviation sector in fully studying the impact of 5G on aircraft.

Of note is that the US is not the only country having concerns about 5G deployment at airports. France’s civilian aviation authority recommended in February 2021 that cell phones using 5G technology be kept off to avoid interference with planes’ radio altimeters that could, it said, cause “critical” errors during landing. It also imposed limits on the power of 5G antennas located near certain airports.

The AT&T and Verizon chiefs did hold out a possible olive branch, however, saying they remain “committed to continuing our cooperation with your Department and all interested parties… on the condition that the FAA and the aviation industry are committed to doing the same without escalating their grievances.”

The CEOs’ letter also pointed to France’s experience in reconciling 5G and concerns of the aviation sector. “US aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of US passengers and with the full approval of the FAA. As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist,” they wrote.



With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse