US officials ask AT&T, Verizon to delay 5G wireless due to aviation safety concerns

A Verizon contract team installs 5G telecommunications equipment on a tower in Orem, Utah, U.S. December 3, 2019. Photo taken December 3, 2019. REUTERS / George Frey / File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Dec.31 (Reuters) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief on Friday asked AT&T (TN) and Verizon Communications (VZ.N) to delay the introduction scheduled for 5 January of the new 5G wireless service on aviation safety issues.

In a letter seen by Reuters on Friday, Buttigieg and FAA administrator Steve Dickson asked AT&T chief executive John Stankey and Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg for a deadline of up to two weeks in the part of a “proposal as a short-term solution to advance the coexistence of 5G deployment in the C-band and safe flight operations.”

The aviation industry and the FAA have raised concerns about potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters that could disrupt flights.

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“We call on your companies to continue to suspend the introduction of commercial C-band service for a short additional period of up to two weeks beyond the currently scheduled rollout date of January 5,” the letter said.

Verizon and AT&T both said they received the letter and reviewed it. Earlier on Friday, the two companies accused the aerospace industry of seeking to hold the deployment of C-band spectrum “hostage until the wireless industry agrees to cover the costs of upgrading altimeters. obsolete “.

Buttigieg and Dickson said that, as part of this framework, “commercial C-band service would begin as planned in January with some exceptions around priority airports.”

The FAA and the aviation industry would identify priority airports “where a buffer zone would allow flight operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of potential interference.”

The government would work to identify “mitigations for all priority airports” to allow most “large commercial aircraft to operate safely in all conditions”. This would allow deployment around “priority airports on an ongoing basis” – aimed at ensuring activation by March 31, barring unforeseen issues.

The operators, who won the spectrum in an $ 80 billion government auction, had previously agreed to precautionary measures for six months to limit interference.

On Thursday, the Airlines for America trade group asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop the deployment of a new 5G wireless service around many airports, warning that thousands of flights could be disrupted: “The potential damage for the airline industry alone are staggering.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing 50,000 flight attendants from 17 airlines, called the Transportation Department’s proposal “a good move to successfully implement 5G without using the traveling public. (and the crews on their flights) as guinea pigs for two systems that must coexist without question for safety. “

Wireless industry group CTIA said 5G is safe and the spectrum is in use in around 40 other countries.

House of Commons Transport Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio on Friday backed the airline group’s petition warning “we cannot afford to experiment with aviation safety.”

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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