Verizon and AT&T soon capable of using good 5G: FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, expects AT&T and Verizon to be capable of more or less fully rolling out their 5G C-band networks by July 2023, after multiple waits due to concerns about the radio waves concerning critical safety equipment on planes.

The FAA says the plan is the result of collaboration between regulators, carriers, and the aviation industry. It will let carriers turn on their equipment in “carefully considered phases” as airlines function to retrofit their planes with gear that will mitigate any possible interference from cellular signals.

As AT&T and Verizon turned on their next-gen networks in January, the FAA opposed, and the carriers agreed to form buffer zones around dozens of airports in the US. The agreement was only meant to unfold until July 2022. But at the moment, it wasn’t obvious how the issue would be resolved by then. So now, the carriers have decided to keep limiting their C-band in specific areas for another year.

In a statement, Verizon chief administrative officer Craig Silliman expressed: Under this agreement with the FAA, we will lift the unforced limitations on our 5G network deployment around airports in a staged strategy over the coming months. It means more consumers and businesses will profit from the impressive credentials of 5G technology.

AT&T representative Richard Alexander said: Through close coordination with the FAA over the last many months, we have designed a more tailored approach to bearing signal strength around runways that enables us to activate more towers and boost signal strength. Though our FCC licenses will allow us to deploy the much-needed C-Band spectrum fully, we have chosen in good conviction to implement these more customized preventive measures so that airlines have extra time to retrofit equipment. We appreciate the FAA’s support of this strategy. We will continue to operate with the aviation community as we move toward expiring all such voluntary standards by next summer.

AT&T and Verizon’s rollout of their latest 5G spectrum as a refresher, also comprehended as C-band, twisted into a complete mess earlier this year after airlines and controllers warned that the signals could meddle with airplanes’ radar altimeters. The rollout wasn’t (or shouldn’t have been) an astonishment to regulators — the industry had been gearing up for it for months, and the FAA had made numerous agreements with carriers to delay it. However, when the time came to swap on the networks, there was a scramble to switch plans, and the carriers ended up begrudgingly consenting to the buffer zones around airports.

These changes weren’t particularly significant for carriers. However, using C-band lets carriers make 5G a step up from LTE in places where mmWave isn’t practical. That’s why AT&T and Verizon expended billions of dollars acquiring the rights to use the spectrum and put up the equipment. Thanks to the exclusion zones, though, clients living around airports haven’t gotten to be a part of the otherwise impressive rollout.

Even with the comforts, some airlines were still impacted. For example, there are still many airports in the US where only 81 percent of aircraft models are cleared to land in weather circumstances where a radar altimeter may be vital. So it was despite the efforts the FAA put in to ensure that the most famous jets were safe to fly in most situations, even at airports where C-band had been deployed. In a House hearing about the commotion in February, FAA administrator Steve Dickson said that new safety measures for altimeters wouldn’t be in location until early 2023.

The fact that the agency is now heralding that carriers and influential airlines will be able to move forward by July 2023 does voice the fact that companies and regulators have been accelerating to fix the issue. It’s also good to notice that there’s a fundamental, as Silliman put it, “accelerated and defined” strategy in place now.

There are still a few queries in the air: the FAA’s statement doesn’t make it evident who’s paying for gear to be retrofitted onto the airplanes or which regions will be the first (and last) to obtain the C-band rollout. However, everyone’s working together to resolve this issue is straightforward.