AT&T, Verizon denies FAA request to postpone 5G launch

AT&T Inc.

T -0.73%

and Verizon Communications Inc.

VZ -0.56%

rejected a request from federal transportation officials to postpone the launch of new 5G wireless services, but offered a counter-proposal that would allow limited distributions to proceed this week.

Mobile operators said in a letter to The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that they could reduce the power of their new 5G service for another six months to match the limits imposed by regulators in France, and give US authorities more time to study the effects of stronger signals. . on air traffic. The plan from the companies, which have said that they plan to start the service on Wednesday, may extend a distance between the telecom and aviation industries on how to proceed.

“If US airlines are allowed to fly every day in France, the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States,”[ads1]; the top executives wrote in the letter.

Officials in the telecom industry have pointed to dozens of countries, including France, which have already allowed mobile services over the relevant frequencies, known as C-bands. France is among the countries that have introduced wireless borders near airports while regulators study the effect on aircraft.

The message from AT&T chief John Stankey and Verizon chief Hans Vestberg was in response to a letter sent by Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson late Friday. The New Year’s Eve message asked operators to postpone their planned 5G launch by “no more than two weeks” while officials worked to address the impact of wireless services at specific airports on a rolling basis in the coming weeks.

The FAA said they reviewed the letter to the wireless companies. “US aviation safety standards will guide our next actions,” the FAA said. Representatives from the Transportation Department, the FAA’s senior agency, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Air safety regulators have said the new mobile services could confuse key cockpit safety systems and are preparing to impose potentially disruptive flight restrictions.

AT&T and Verizon disputed allegations of any air safety risk, although the companies have already postponed a planned December debut of the new signals to allow more time for telecom and aviation regulators to share information on the relevant wireless infrastructure and aircraft equipment.

Sunday’s letter from CEOs of telecommunications said transport regulators’ latest request for delay would hurt millions of our consumer, business and public customers, noting that carriers spent more than $ 80 billion to obtain licenses in an auction from Federal Communications Commission which closed in January 2021.

The FCC authorities padded the spectrum of the auctioneers with a range of buffer frequencies to prevent interference with cockpit systems. But air safety regulators have expressed concern that more sensitive altimeters that pick up signals far beyond their defined range could confuse mobile transmissions with terrain. The units feed data to standard cockpit systems that help aircraft automatically land in bad weather, prevent crashes and avoid air collisions.

AT&T and Verizon have spent the past year preparing to turn on new signals to provide new fifth-generation wireless technology, a faster and more capable mobile service. Wireless companies in other countries already use similar frequencies, but the spectrum was not available to US providers until recently due to existing satellite users having to move into a narrower spectrum before 5G service could begin.

Without a solution to the aviation telecom dispute, Messrs. Buttigieg and Dickson warned that the FAA’s flight limits would have serious economic consequences.

“Failure to reach a solution by January 5 will force the US aviation sector to take steps to protect the safety of traveling travelers, especially during periods of poor visibility or bad weather,” they wrote in their December 31 letter. .

Airlines have been preparing for significant flight cancellations and diversions due to potential FAA flight restrictions due to the regulator’s aviation safety concerns. Pilots and airlines had been waiting for details of potential FAA flight restrictions limiting the use of radar altimeter-dependent systems. Officials in the aviation industry have recently expected the agency to detail flight limits as soon as Monday.

Over the past week, US flights have been narrowed by a mix of winter storms and manning challenges due to the growing number of airline crews reporting sick with Covid-19 as the US handles an increase in the Omicron variant. Thousands of flights have been canceled and delayed.

5G and air traffic

More WSJ coverage of the debate on wireless frequencies and aviation, selected by the editorial staff.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at and Andrew Tangel at

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