Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

With AT&T and Verizon going live on Jan. 19 of their 5G expansion, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected 50 airports (PDF) that will have buffer zones to help prevent flight disruptions (via Reuters and Wall Street Journal). Safety regulators chose airports based on location, traffic volume and the likelihood of poor visibility – all factors that could increase cancellations, delays and diversions as both airlines roll out the 5G C-band service.

As indicated by the Wall Street Journalparticularly busy airports such as Chicago O’Hare, Orlando International, Los Angeles International, and Dallas/Fort Worth International are included in the list, along with airports in locations often affected by foggy conditions, such as Seattle/Tacoma International and San Francisco International.

The FAA notes that AT&T and Verizon have agreed to disable their 5G transmitters in these specific buffer zones for six months, which should “minimize potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft instruments used in low-visibility landings.” Some airports — including major hubs such as Hartsfield/Jackson International and Denver International — did not make the list, either because they are not in locations where 5G C-Band will be deployed, or because they cannot allow low-visibility landings.

AT&T and Verizon have been eager to deploy their enhanced 5G service since they collectively spent $70 billion last year securing portions of the C-band spectrum, which should provide a middle ground in terms of 5G speed. and coverage — something that both carriers’ 5G service is currently lacking. The two currently offer 5G service using super-fast high-band millimeter wave technology that only covers small areas, as well as the low-band spectrum, which offers a lot of coverage with slow service comparable to 4G LTE. T-Mobile already offers mid-band 5G service, but it’s not in the C-band range.

Both Verizon and AT&T were originally scheduled to turn on their 5G extensions on December 5, but air security fears delayed the launch twice. The airlines ultimately rejected the FAA’s request to delay the rollout until January 5, but later agreed to enable service on January 19, giving the FAA additional time to account for potential flight disruptions.

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