AT&T, Verizon reject US appeal over delay of new 5G service

(Bloomberg) – AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. have rejected a U.S. request to delay the launch this week of a new variant of the 5G mobile service that airlines say could interfere with the electronics of the airplane, posing a safety hazard.

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But the CEOs of the two telecom giants also said in a joint letter on Sunday that they would be ready to commit to a six-month hiatus from deployment near certain airports that will be selected during negotiations with U.S. officials and the aviation industry.

The US demand targets measures that would be “to the detriment of our millions of consumers, businesses and government customers,” Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg and John Stankey of AT&T wrote to the Transportation Secretary. Pete Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. .

In a letter Friday, U.S. officials asked wireless service providers to delay the scheduled start of the new service on Jan.5. Officials predict a possible “widespread and unacceptable disruption” to air traffic, as planes avoid airports bathed in 5G signals that could affect electronics used during landings.

“Irresponsible abdication”

Operators have made the deployment of 5G a priority, citing a race with China to deliver high-speed mobile broadband and growing demand for wireless services amid the Covid pandemic.

“Your proposed framework calls for our agreement to transfer oversight of our companies’ multibillion-dollar investments in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas representing the lion’s share of the US population to the FAA for an indefinite number of months or days. ‘years,’ wrote Vestberg and Stankey. . “Worse yet, the proposal is only for two companies. “

Wireless executives said accepting the proposal would be “an irresponsible abdication of the operational control required to deploy world-class and globally competitive communications networks.”

The new 5G signals would use a set of waves made available to mobile communications providers. The frequencies are close to those used by radar altimeters. Aviation interests have said this creates a risk of interference that could make some landings unsafe.

The wireless industry has said that the power levels are low enough to prevent interference and that the frequency gap is large enough to ensure safety.

Previously, AT&T and Verizon had agreed to reduce the strength of their 5G signals and put in place a 30-day deadline, moving the start of service from December to January 5.

Exclusion zones

FAA and DOT officials are reviewing the companies’ response and “US aviation safety standards will guide our next actions,” the FAA said in an emailed statement.

The FAA, an arm of the United Nations and industry groups have raised concerns about the use of radio waves since 2015, the U.S. aviation regulator said.

In Sunday’s letter, AT&T and Verizon executives said if aviation interests do not step up their campaign against the new signals, they will pledge not to deploy towers near certain airports during six months. The offer is modeled on the exclusion zones of airports in France, where the 5G service operates on similar frequencies and where American airliners have landed.

Leaders of the wireless network have said they are “committed to continuing” cooperation with transport interests “on condition that the FAA and the aviation industry agree to do the same without escalating their grievances, as unfounded as they are, in other places “.

While it is not clear how aerospace groups will react to the counter-offer from mobile phone companies, some type of restriction on 5G service near runways could limit the impacts and give industry groups and regulators more power. time to study the interference potential.

Emergency request

Aviation groups have argued that power levels and frequencies approved in other countries, including France, are not comparable to those in the United States.

The Airlines for America trade group, in an emergency petition last week, asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay the planned 5G deployment. The CTIA trade group which represents the wireless interests told the FCC to deny the request.

“We are optimistic that by working together we can both advance the wireless economy and ensure aviation safety,” an FCC spokesperson said in an email Sunday.

US transportation officials, in their letter on Friday, called for a “no more than two weeks” delay. Meanwhile, the FAA and the aviation industry will identify airports where a buffer zone would allow flights to continue safely.

Critical tracks

In addition to the two-week delay, transport officials have asked companies to suspend the new service near “priority airports”. The service could be activated near these airports on an ongoing basis until March, they proposed.

That way, most 5G customers could use the new service, but critical leads would be protected, they said. The FAA has said it is trying to identify which airports it considers high priority and will seek to identify mitigation measures that will allow most large commercial aircraft to operate safely.

The stakes are high for both industries. The wireless industry paid $ 81 billion in auction for access to the frequencies in question, and AT&T and Verizon will be relying on them for network upgrades to compete with T-Mobile US Inc. by providing the next generation of fast mobile broadband.

In a Dec. 30 petition asking for a delay, the airlines said they could lose more than $ 1 billion if they couldn’t properly operate their planes due to interference issues, while disrupting plans to million passengers.

(Updates with more letter in the fifth paragraph.)

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