AT&T & Verizon reject request to delay 5G wireless services, offer to adopt temporary safety measures

In a significant development, the CEOs of Verizon Communications and AT&T have rejected a request to delay the planned introduction of 5G wireless services over aviation safety fears. They have however offered to temporarily adopt new safety measures.

Earlier last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson had asked AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg to delay commercial deployment of 5G for at least two weeks.

In a joint letter on Sunday, both wireless companies said, they would not deploy 5G wireless services around airports for six months while rejecting broader limitation on using the C-Band spectrum.

They said, the proposal by the Transportation Department would be “an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks.”

The FAA and the aviation industry have voiced concerns of potential interference of 5G wireless services with sensitive aircraft electronics including radio altimeters, which could potentially disrupt flights.

The exclusion zone AT&T and Verizon propose is currently in use in France, the carriers said, “with slight adaption” reflecting “modest technical differences in how C-band is being deployed.”

“The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France,” wrote the CEOs in their letter. “If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States.”

In a statement on late on Sunday, the FAA said, it “reviewing the latest letter from the wireless companies on how to mitigate interference from 5G C-band transmissions. U.S. aviation safety standards will guide our next actions.”

FAA officials have clarified, France uses 5G spectrum that sits further away from spectrum used for radio altimeters; furthermore, 5G wireless services in France uses lower power levels than those authorized in the United States.

Verizon responded saying, initially it will use spectrum in the same range as those used in France; in the future it will use additional spectrum.

The larger U.S. exclusion zone around U.S. airports is “to make up for the slight difference in power levels between the two nations,” said Verizon.

In a tweet, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), representing 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, said, airlines, pilots, manufacturers and others “have NO incentive to delay 5G, other than SAFETY. What do they think … we’re raising these issues over the holidays for, kicks?”

The Air Line Pilots Association has backed the delay.

According to industry officials, the exclusion zones proposed by the wireless carriers is not as large as what has been sought by the FAA. The government concurs with the views of industry officials.

Earlier last week, the FAA and Buttigieg had proposed identifying priority airports “where a buffer zone would permit aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential.”

Previously, Verizon Communications and AT&T had agreed to adopt precautionary measures for six months to limit interference but later they took the view that upgrades are essential to compete with other countries including China and to enable remote working.

Airlines for America, a trade group which represents American Airlines, FedEx and other carriers, has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to halt the deployment of 5G wireless services around many airports, warning thousands of flights could be disrupted on a daily basis.

Airlines for America has also threatened to go court later today if the FCC does not act. The group urged the FCC and the telecom industry to work with the FAA and the aviation industry to “enable the rollout of 5G technology while prioritizing safety and avoiding any disruption to the aviation system.”

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the FCC said the agency is “optimistic that by working together we can both advance the wireless economy and ensure aviation safety.”

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