The Federal Aviation Administration and major wireless companies have identified steps to safely deploy 5G around some airports, the agency said Friday. The announcement signals a path forward after AT&T and Verizon delayed their rollouts earlier this year amid concerns about interference with devices measuring aircraft altitude.
As part of a phased approach, regional aircraft operators with radio altimeters most vulnerable to interference must retrofit them with radio frequency filters by the end of the year, the agency said in an announcement. Airlines and other aircraft operators with altimeters that are affected must add filters or other upgrades as soon as they can, the FAA said.
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“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist,” acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in the announcement. “We appreciate the willingness of Verizon and AT&T to continue this important and productive collaboration with the aviation industry.”
The FAA worked with the companies to determine airports near which they can boost service with the slightest chance of disruption to scheduled flights. AT&T and Verizon previously said they would keep mitigations in place until July, but have now offered “to continue with some level of voluntary mitigations for another year,” the FAA said.
AT&T spokesperson Alex Byers told USA TODAY in an emailed statement that by working closely with the agency in recent months, “we have developed a more tailored approach to controlling signal strength around runways that allows us to activate more towers and increase signal strength.”
Byers noted that while Federal Communications Commission licenses currently allow full deployment of “much-needed C-Band spectrum right now, we have chosen in good faith to implement these more tailored precautionary measures so that airlines have additional time to retrofit equipment.”
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Why is 5G so powerful?
“Today’s announcement identifies a way forward that will enable Verizon to make full use of our C-Band spectrum for 5G around airports on an accelerated and defined schedule,” Craig Silliman, Verizon executive vice president and chief administrative, legal and public policy officer. said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
As part of the agreement, Silliman said, “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.”
5G offers greater speed and bandwidth over a broader area, and has the ability to support things like virtual reality.
The announcement comes after the FAA called on US airline executives this week to quickly address risks related to a 5G rollout to prevent issues at airports starting next month, Reuters reported.
The wireless carriers initially delayed their plans after major airline CEOs, along with FedEx and UPS, called on the Biden administration to intervene. In a letter addressed to the FAA, the Department of Transportation, the FCC and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, the companies requested at the time that deployment of 5G be put off within 2 miles of some airport runways “to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies. ”