The Federal Aviation Administration says it has reached an agreement with AT&T and Verizon (Engadget's former parent company) regarding the rollout of their C-Band 5G networks at and around airports. The agency said the three sides have found common ground "on steps that will enable more aircraft to safely use key airports while also enabling more towers to deploy 5G service."
According to the FAA, the providers offered "more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-Band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments." The agency said it used the data to "determine that it is possible to safely and more precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are mitigated, shrinking the areas where wireless operators are deferring their antenna activations. This will enable the wireless providers to safely turn on more towers as they deploy new 5G service in major markets across the United States.”
The accord follows a months-long tussle between airlines and wireless providers over C-Band 5G. AT&T and Verizon voluntarily delayed the rollout for six weeks to address concerns that their services could interfere with aircraft systems and electronics, due to C-Band frequencies being close to ones used by altimeters.
Earlier this month, the CEOs of airlines including Delta, United and Southwest claimed in a letter to the federal government that the networks could affect their planes' instruments and lead to a “catastrophic” event.
AT&T and Verizon activated their C-Band 5G networks last week after agreeing to create temporary buffer zones around dozens of airports — they haven't switched on C-Band 5G towers within two miles of some runways. They also argued that similar networks have been deployed in 40 other countries without issue.
It's not clear when AT&T and Verizon plan to turn on C-Band 5G towers closer to airports following the FAA agreement. The providers declined to comment.
The CTIA, a trade association for the wireless industry, was bullish about the news. "This is a positive development that highlights the considerable progress the wireless industry, aviation industry, FAA and FCC are making to ensure robust 5G service and safe flights," CTIA chief communications officer Nick Ludlum told Engadget in a statement.
Meanwhile, the FAA said it would continue discussions with helicopter operators and other stakeholders in the aviation industry "to ensure they can safely operate in areas of current and planned 5G deployment."