The FAA, AT&T and Verizon are getting closer to solving their 5G mess
Regulators, airlines and the airline industry appear to be working out the details surrounding the rollout of C-band 5G and its potential effects on air travel. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s last statement“Through ongoing technical collaboration, the FAA, Verizon and AT&T have agreed on steps that will allow more planes to safely use key airports while also enabling more towers to deploy 5G service.”
Carriers “provided more accurate data on the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported a more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments,” it said. an FAA statement released on Friday, which you can read in full below. Before AT&T and Verizon launched their improved cell technology last week, there were concerns from the FAA and the aviation industry that radar altimeters, essential instruments used to land planes safely in poor visibility, would not properly pick up cell signals and inaccurate readings.
To allay these fears, airlines agreed to further expand the agreed buffer zones around certain airports, which in some cases caused a slight drop in the number of people benefiting from the improved service. Both AT&T and Verizon expressed their frustration with the FAA. Now it looks like there’s more collaboration — the FAA says it’s used data provided by the airlines to determine “that it’s possible to safely and more accurately measure the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are being reduced.” identifying the areas where wireless operators are delaying their antenna activation.”
This, in turn, should “enable wireless carriers to securely power up more towers while deploying new 5G service in key markets in the United States,” the regulator said. The CTIA, an advocacy organization for cell carriers, told The New York Times that the deals being made are “a positive development that highlights the significant progress made by the wireless industry, the aviation industry, the FAA and the FCC to ensure robust 5G service and safe flights.” A statement de Time obtained from a group representing the airlines, it seemed to agree for the most part, although it stated that there is still “a lot of work to be done” before there is “a more efficient permanent solution”. (Regional airlines serving rural airports and connecting flights have also raised the alarm that the current situation is not exactly tenable.)
It took a while to get to this point. Leading up to the airlines turning on their C-Band equipment, there were last-minute delays and agreements, and airlines and CEOs warned of potentially “catastrophic” consequences. On Friday, Brian Fung did an excellent report for CNN explain why everything seemed to fall apart at the last minute.
The report is definitely worth reading for anyone wanting to understand how this could have happened, but long story short, it boils down to a breakdown in communications between two government agencies, the FCC and the FAA (although there are others in the mix as well) . The FCC, which was primarily responsible for selling airline access to the C-Band spectrum, received no useful input from the FAA while it was in the planning and regulatory phase, despite the air safety regulator various statements about this in public. There are quite a few reasons why this happened, from an agency failure to pass a letter from the FAA to the FCC that that letter was written almost a year too late.
fung too explained in a Twitter thread that the FAA had no access to critical carrier data. Based on the regulator’s statement today, this appears to have been resolved (or at least in the works). But before the two industries started talking, there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion. “There were a lot of ‘aha’ moments on both sides of the equation” when regulators and companies really started listening to each other, according to a source citing Fung in his report.
Building on the report, analyst Harold Feld goes into more detail about how a third agency intervened and how it could have been difficult for the FAA to find out the proper lines of communication with the FCC.
This is important because the NTIA is supposed to be the body that ensures that fed spectrum policy is unified. While NTIA represents the other agencies at FCC, it’s not just a “dumb pipe.” /2
— (((haroldfeld))) (@haroldfeld) January 28, 2022
John Leibovitz, former deputy chief and special counsel to the FCC, also weighed in with his own Twitter thread, explaining that the botched process meant the FCC couldn’t use money to fix the problem (perhaps by setting aside cash that airlines could have used to upgrade altimeters that didn’t meet the requirements). He also explains how a jumble of responsibilities and roles and a lack of requirements for certain documentation about how altimeters act as receivers made things more unclear to regulators.
3/ Would it have helped for aviation to have a pot of money – subject to a strict timetable – to upgrade altimeters? Probably. But the time to do this was before the rules were established, under the existing authority. After that, the only authority that can move money is Congress.
— John Leibovitz (@JohnLeibovitz) January 28, 2022
While this probably won’t be the last we hear about the 5G/airline situation, the actual communication between industries and regulators hopefully means a fix is on the way. Either way, the FAA knowing where AT&T and Verizon’s towers are should make it easier to make decisions when the airline’s deferral expires in July.
The FAA statement of January 28:
Through ongoing technical collaboration, the FAA, Verizon and AT&T have agreed on steps that will allow more planes to safely use key airports, while also allowing more towers to deploy 5G service. The FAA appreciates the strong communication and collaboration approach with wireless companies, which have provided more accurate data on the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported a more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments. The FAA used this data to determine it would be possible to safely and more accurately map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are restricted, reducing the areas where wireless operators delay their antenna activation. turn into. This will allow the wireless carriers to safely turn on more towers while deploying new 5G service in key markets in the United States. The FAA continues to work with helicopter operators and others in the aviation community to ensure they can operate safely in areas of current and planned 5G deployment.