Verizon and AT&T agree to delay airport C-Band 5G rollout until 2023

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Verizon and AT&T have agreed to delay some elements of their 5G rollouts around major airports in the US until July 2023, giving the aviation industry more time to address any potential risks caused by C-Band spectrum.

Mid-range C-Band offer a compromise between the range and indoor penetration characteristics of low-range airwaves and the huge capacity offered by high-band frequencies.

Both operators had planned to switch on C-Band 5G earlier this year before the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) expressed concerns the spectrum could affect sensitive electronics, like altimeters, that rely on frequencies located between 4.2GHz and 4.4GHz.

5G aviation threat 

These fears are disputed by mobile operators, who nonetheless agreed to delay the launch of their respective services near some airports for six months and introduce measures that mitigate any perceived issues, including airport buffer zones.

With that timeframe set to expire, the FAA, AT&T and Verizon have agreed to a new plan for a phased rollout that will give major airlines the opportunity to refit their aircraft with new altimeters over the next 12 months.

“We believe we have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “We appreciate the willingness of Verizon and AT&T to continue this important and productive collaboration with the aviation industry.”

“Today’s announcement identifies a path forward that will enable Verizon to make full use of our C-Band spectrum for 5G around airports on an accelerated and defined schedule,” said Craig Silliman, chief administrative officer at Verizon. “Under this agreement reached with the FAA, we will lift the voluntary limitations on our 5G network deployment around airports in a staged approach over the coming months meaning even more consumers and businesses will benefit from the tremendous capabilities of 5G technology.

“This progress is the result of months of close collaboration with the FAA, FCC, and aviation industry, and sets the stage for continued, robust 5G deployment.”

Mobile operators and industry bodies say there is no credible evidence of interference, noting that other countries have deployed C-Band 5G with no problems and that there is a sufficient spectrum gap between bandwidth allocated for mobile and for aviation. Others have questioned why the FAA waited so long before expressing is concerns.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.