Verizon and AT&T FAA Agreement Expands C-Band 5G, With Restrictions Through July 2023

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, says it expects AT&T and Verizon to be able to more or less fully implement their 5G C-band networks by July 2023, after several delays due to concerns about radio waves affecting vital equipment. of security in airplanes. The plan, which the FAA says is the result of collaboration between regulators, carriers and the aviation industry, will allow carriers to turn on their equipment in “carefully considered phases” as airlines work to modernize their planes with equipment that will mitigate any potential. cellular signal interference.

As AT&T and Verizon were linking their next-generation networks in January, the FAA protested and the carriers agreed to create buffer zones around dozens of airports across the US. The agreement was only supposed to run until July 2022. But at the time, it was unclear how the issue would be resolved until then. Now, operators have agreed to continue limiting their C-band in certain areas for another year.

In a statement to On the edgeVerizon managing director Craig Silliman said:

Pursuant to this agreement with the FAA, we will eliminate voluntary limitations from our 5G network deployment at airports in a phased approach in the coming months, which means that even more consumers and businesses will benefit from the tremendous capabilities of 5G technology.

AT&T spokesman Alex Byers said:

Through close coordination with the FAA over the past few months, we’ve developed a more personalized approach to controlling signal strength around lanes that allows us to activate more towers and increase signal strength. While our FCC licenses allow us to fully deploy much-needed C-band spectrum now, we have chosen in good faith to implement these more tailored precautionary measures so that airlines have additional time to upgrade equipment. We appreciate the FAA’s support of this approach and will continue to work with the aviation community as we move towards expiry of all these voluntary measures by next summer.

As a reminder, Verizon and AT&T’s launch of their new 5G spectrum, also known as C-band, turned into a complete mess earlier this year after airlines and regulators warned that the signals could interfere with aircraft radar altimeters. planes. The launch wasn’t (or shouldn’t have been) a surprise to regulators – the industry had been preparing for it for months, and the FAA made several deals with operators to delay it. However, when it came time to connect the networks, there was a rush to change plans, and carriers ended up begrudgingly agreeing to buffer zones around airports.

These changes have not been particularly good for operators. Being able to use C-band is what allows operators to make 5G truly a step up over LTE in places where mmWave is simply not practical (read: in most places). That’s why AT&T and Verizon spent billions of dollars to obtain spectrum usage rights and configure the equipment. Thanks to exclusion zones, however, customers who live near airports were unable to be part of the impressive launch.

Even with the mitigations, some airlines were still affected, and there are still several airports in the US where only 81% of aircraft models are cleared to land in weather conditions where a radar altimeter can be vital. This was despite the work the FAA did to ensure that the most popular jets were safe to fly in most conditions, even at airports where the C-band had been deployed. (It’s worth noting that these efforts haven’t helped the smaller regional airlines, which have been hit hardest by the restrictions, as much.) At a House hearing on the buzz in February, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said that the new travel standards security for altimeters would not be in place until early 2023.

The FAA airport map with 100% clearance (green) and 81% clearance (yellow). Missing airports do not have the necessary runway systems or are not in 5G deployment areas.
Image: FAA

The fact that the agency now predicts that carriers and major airlines will be able to move largely through July 2023 speaks to the fact that companies and regulators are working at a fast pace to correct the problem. It’s also nice to see that there’s a real plan, as Silliman put it, “accelerated and defined” in place now – I didn’t have a feeling there was one before.

There are still some questions in the air: the FAA statement does not make it clear who is paying for the equipment to be retrofitted on the planes or which areas will be the first (and last) to receive the C-band release. are working together to resolve this specific issue.

Patch June 17, 4:50 pm ET: The original version of this article incorrectly reported the name of an AT&T spokesperson. We are sorry for the error.

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