AT&T, Verizon moving ahead with C-Band 5G deployments, despite FAA concerns

The CEOs of both companies confirm plans to go ahead with their controversial January 5 rollout plans, but offer a concession involving buffer zones around airports.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

The CEOs of both AT&T and Verizon Communications confirmed their companies are moving ahead with the previously announced January 5 launch date for their respective C-Band 5G deployments, despite a direct request for a delay from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson. 

The pair of regulatory heads had asked in a joint letter for a two-week delay to help their agencies further assess concerns that commercial deployments on the C-Band spectrum could interfere with the automated landing systems used by some aircraft. The conflict has been brewing for months now, with the FAA trumpeting its concerns, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its backers support the research that led to that agency's original approval of C-Band deployments in the US. 

Now, Reuters has obtained a joint letter from AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg fully outlining their intent to move forward with the controversial deployments later this week.

The January 5 deployment date was already a delayed start offered by the duo when concerns were first disclosed by the FAA. Although the pair apparently plans to move ahead with the majority of their originally planned C-Band 5G deployments on the appointed date, they also offered a compromise that will see both companies delaying launches near airports for six months. 

As Reuters notes, this buffer zone is similar to one currently used in France to prevent interference. The CEOs reference this in their response, saying "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."

It is worth noting, however, that the US spectrum being used for C-Band deployments sits closer to the frequencies being used by aviation systems than the C-Band deployments in France. Verizon addressed this as well, promising to use slightly larger spatial zones to account for "the slight difference in power levels between the two nations." Meanwhile, the FAA had been seeking even larger exclusion zones than what Verizon feels is necessary, Reuters noted. 

Despite the confidence shown by the pair of telecommunications CEOs, representatives of the FAA, several airlines and aircraft manufacturers, FedEx, and unions representing both pilots and attendants all continued their calls for a delay. The minds of both carriers seem made up, however, with the joint CEO letter calling any further delay "an irresponsible abdication of the operating control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks." 

It remains possible that the FAA or any of the aforementioned commercial entities in the aviation industry could go to court over the issue. However, no additional legal countermeasures had been filed at the time of writing. 

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