5G C-band rollout at US airports slowed by altimeter fears

The US aviation watchdog says the rollout of 5G C-band coverage near US airports won’t fully begin until next year, delaying some travelers’ access to better cellular broadband in airports. crowded terminals.

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement this month that his discussions with wireless carriers “have identified a path that will continue to allow aviation and C-band wireless 5G to coexist safely”.

5G C-band operates between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz, close to the 4.2-4.4 GHz band used by radio altimeters which are very useful for landing planes in limited visibility. It was feared or feared that these cellular signals, like those from cell towers near airports, would spill into the frequencies used by aircraft and cause radio altimeters to show an incorrect reading. The C-band technology, which promises faster mobile broadband, was supposed to be rolled out nationwide on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US networks, but some rollouts have been put on hold near airports due to these. concerns.

C-band frequencies allocated to cellular service providers are frankly unlikely to have any effect on airline safety. Still, the FAA said it had a job to do: maintain the United States’ reputation as having the safest aviation “in the world.”

“If there is the possibility of a risk to the traveling public, we are obligated to restrict the affected flight activity until we can prove it is safe,” the FAA said.

Earlier this year, the FAA and telecom carriers agreed to delay deployment near airports until July as affected parties sought to resolve any potential interference. Now, rather than rolling out 5G C-band gradually around airports with a target date of July 2022, it’s not July 2023.

Until then, cellular networks will continue to expand their coverage with, as the FAA puts it, “some level of voluntary mitigation” to reduce the risk of any interference. And next July, the wireless giants will be able to offer 5G “with minimal restrictions”.

While 90% of the US commercial fleet has been cleared to use radio altimeters to land in low visibility near C-band transmissions, the remaining affected aircraft require filters on their equipment to block the frequencies. A phased approach planned for the rest of 2022 will see the modernization of regional jets, which has already begun and the FAA has said it will be accelerated.

As for commercial jets, “filters and replacement units for the mainline commercial fleet should be available on a schedule that would allow work to be substantially complete by July 2023,” the FAA said. And as part of that approach, C-band cellular operators will slow their rollouts around airports for another year.

Both Verizon and AT&T voluntarily agreed to do so, the FAA said, and the companies’ statements confirm this. “Under this agreement with the FAA, we will lift voluntary limitations on the deployment of our 5G network around airports in a phased approach over the next few months,” said Verizon EVP and CAO Craig Silliman.

AT&T, on the other hand, said it was well within its rights to deploy “much-needed C-band spectrum right now,” but won’t. “We have chosen in good faith to implement these more appropriate precautionary measures so that airlines have more time to upgrade equipment.” ®

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