US mobile phone operators Verizon Communications and AT&T have agreed to a two-week delay in deploying C-Band wireless spectrum, following concerted pressure from the aviation industry over possible safety issues.
The industry has repeatedly voiced its concerns about potential interference of the new 5G network with sensitive aircraft electronics like radio altimeters that could disrupt flights.
The latest agreement pushes back the deployment date to 19 January
Verizon said the delay “promises the certainty of bringing this nation our game-changing 5G network in January”. AT&T said it agreed to the delay at the request of US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues,” AT&T said.
Over the next two weeks, regulators, airlines and wireless carriers will look at ways of minimising the potential impact of interference on flight operations.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) praised the wireless carriers agreeing to a delay and the safety measures they offered. “We look forward to using the additional time and space to reduce flight disruptions associated with this 5G deployment,” the FAA said.
Earlier this week, groups representing US airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports had urged the White House to intervene to delay the use by wireless carriers of C-Band spectrum for 5G, which the carriers won in an $80 billion government auction.
The delay came after the chief executives of AT&T and Verizon on Sunday had rejected a request to push back the planned 5 January introduction of new 5G wireless service over aviation safety concerns but offered to temporarily adopt new safeguards.
Buttigieg and FAA chief Steve Dickson had asked AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg on Friday for a delay of up to two weeks.
In December, the FAA warned that interference from the planned use of 5G wireless spectrum posed an air safety risk and could result in flight diversions. But it had not yet issued formal notices that would further outline potential impacts.
The mobile operators had previously said they would not deploy 5G around airports for six months, adding it was comparable to safeguards employed in France but had rejected any broader limitation on using C-Band spectrum.
The trade group Airlines for America, representing American Airlines, FedEx and other carriers, had asked the Federal Communications Commission to halt deployment around many airports, warning thousands of flights could be disrupted daily.