AFP / New York
AT&T and Verizon agreed yesterday to a partial delay in activating their 5G networks following an outcry from US airlines, who warned the rollout could lead to travel chaos.
The latest delay came after the chief executives of the largest airlines in the United States warned the day prior of a “catastrophic disruption” to travel and shipping operations if the rollout set for today went as planned.
Telecom giants spent tens of billions of dollars to obtain 5G licences last year, but as the launch date approached, aviation industry groups raised concerns about possible interference with airplanes’ radio altimeters — which can operate at the same frequencies.
AT&T described its latest delay as voluntary and temporary, with a spokesperson saying it is working with the airline industry and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “to provide further information about our 5G deployment, since they have not utilised the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment.”
“We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers.”
A Verizon spokesperson said it would begin 5G service today for some 90mn Americans, but the firm has “voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports.”
“The Federal Aviation Administration and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”
The announcements were welcomed by President Joe Biden, who said in a statement they “avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90% of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled.”
Verizon and AT&T have already twice delayed the launch of their new C-Band 5G service, due to warnings from airlines and aircraft manufacturers concerned that the new system might interfere with the devices planes use to measure altitude.
The FAA said on Sunday it had approved some transponders to be safely operated within areas where 5G will be deployed, clearing “as many as 48 of the 88 airports most directly affected by 5G C-Band interference.”
But the airlines are worried that the remaining limitations at those airports, as well as a large amount of equipment still uncertified, could trigger a crisis that would ground thousands of flights.
The airline executives called on authorities to “take whatever action necessary to ensure that 5G is deployed except when towers are too close to airport runways until the FAA can determine how that can be safely accomplished without catastrophic disruption.”
The letter was signed by CEOs of major airlines including American, United, Delta and Southwest, as well as the leaders of shipping giants FedEx and UPS.
US airlines also have protested against the potential costs incurred.
In a letter to employees prior to the Verizon and AT&T announcements, an American Airlines executive had warned of “major operational disruptions” due to the 5G rollout.
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