AT&T / Verizon rejects plea for 5G delay; airlines threaten to cancel flights en masse

A person on an airplane uses a smartphone to take a photo through the window.

Getty Images | Marco Bottigelli

AT&T and Verizon yesterday rejected a request by the Federal Aviation Administration to further delay the deployment of 5G on C-band frequencies, but said they would adopt one of the “most conservative” power limits in the world. world near airports for six months after the scheduled Jan. 5 deployment. This is in addition to other voluntary limits recently announced by carriers, even though it has been nearly two years since the Federal Communications Commission determined that spectrum use should not interfere with properly designed aircraft altimeters.

“Specifically, for six months, until July 5, 2022, we will adopt the same C-band radio exclusion zones that are already in use in France, with a slight adaptation to reflect the modest technical differences in the way band C is deployed in both countries, ”the carriers said in yesterday’s letter. “This approach, which is one of the most conservative in the world, would include large exclusion zones around the runways of some airports. The effect would be to further reduce C-band signal levels by at least 10 times. on the runway or during the last mile of final approach and the first mile after take-off. “

The exclusion zones in France are 910 × 2100 meters, according to the letter. AT&T and Verizon have said they will use larger exclusion zones with an additional “540m on all four sides to accommodate” the higher power levels allowed in the United States.

The carriers noted that “American planes are currently entering and exiting France every day with thousands of American passengers and with full FAA approval,” and that “the laws of physics are the same in the United States and in France. If the United States airlines are allowed to operate daily flights to France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States. “

Meanwhile, a group representing major airlines sent a letter to the FCC threatening legal action and claiming that “thousands of flights” could be hijacked or canceled every day due to interference from 5G transmissions. But the spectrum is already in use for 5G in nearly 40 other countries, and the FAA admitted there are no “proven reports of harmful interference” to altimeters.

Buttigieg on the FAA side

AT&T / Verizon’s letter was in response to a letter of December 31 FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Dickson and Buttigieg have called on AT&T and Verizon to delay all commercial C-band services for an additional two weeks, until January 19, and wait for the aviation industry to conduct further analysis before rolling out 5G to the strip C near airports.

AT&T and Verizon previously agreed to a one-month delay in the deployment that was originally scheduled for December 5, 2021. In yesterday’s letter, they objected that the new FAA / DOT request “requests that we agree to transfer monitoring the billion-dollar multi-investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the US population at the FAA for an indefinite number of months or years. “

The FCC approved 5G C-band transmissions in February 2020, while requiring power limits as well as a 220 MHz guard band that will go unused to protect altimeters. AT&T and Verizon then spent a combined $ 69 billion to purchase C-band spectrum licenses from 3.7 to 3.98 GHz. The radio altimeters used to determine aircraft altitudes are based on a spectrum of 4.2 GHz to 4.4 GHz.

The guard band is indeed even larger in 2022 because the carriers have noted they do not plan to deploy between 3.8 and 3.98 GHz before 2023.

Airlines plan to sue if FCC fails to act

Airlines for America, a commercial group that represents the main American airlines, filed a emergency petition on December 30 asking the FCC to stop the deployment of C-band near airports. The group said that if the FCC does not act by noon ET on January 3, the group “will be forced to seek legal or other redress to avoid the immediate and unacceptable risk to the safety of its members’ operations due to the interference. with radio altimeters “.

The emergency petition claimed that C-band interference “will cause irreparable damage and jeopardize the functioning of critical aircraft safety systems, which in turn threatens to hijack or cancel thousands of flights every day. , thus disrupting millions of passenger bookings, causing substantial disruption. for aircrews, further disrupting U.S. and global supply chains and eroding the margin of safety that the industry and the Federal Aviation Administration have worked so hard to achieve. “

“A4A is playing stupid games because they waited until the FCC closed on December 30 to file their case. Since the FCC closed on December 31, A4A says it will appeal today [Monday], this leaves no time for the FCC to consider or respond to the suspension request “, wrote Harold Feld, a telecommunications lawyer who is senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

Six former FCC Presidents criticized the FAA’s fight against the C-Band deployment last month, saying “the FAA’s position threatens to derail the FCC’s reasoned conclusions after years of analysis and ‘technical study’.

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