Boeing Airplane

AT&T and Verizon have reached a new agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) involving the deployment of 5G wireless service in the C-band.

The carriers have deployed service in the band throughout a large part of the U.S. but, according to a previous agreement, had agreed to delay deployments in areas surrounding airports. The carriers agreed to the delay earlier this year in response to concerns raised by the FAA that service in the C-band could interfere with airplane altimeters.

The new agreement calls for “operators of regional aircraft with radio altimeters most susceptible to interference to retrofit them with radio frequency filters by the end of 2022,” the FAA said.

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Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon will be able to begin deploying 5G service in the C-band around airports where the deployments pose the least risk of disrupting flight schedules. The carriers also agreed to a continued delay around other airports until July 2023.

According to the FCC, aircraft manufacturers have developed and have begun to ship filters and replacement units for the aviation instrumentation. Filters and replacement units for the “mainline commercial fleet” should be available on a phased basis that would enable most of the required work to be completed by July 2023.

“After that time, the wireless companies expect to operate their networks in urban areas with minimal restrictions,” the FAA said in a prepared statement.

The FAA also noted that in most cases, the necessary work can be performed in a few hours at airline maintenance facilities. The agency pledged to work with the wireless carriers to “relax mitigations around key airports in carefully considered phases” and to work with the aviation industry to track the pace of equipment retrofits.

The C-band is considered mid-band spectrum, which is viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of speed and coverage for 5G. Although there were 21 winning bidders in the auction, some of the bidders won spectrum that is not scheduled for availability until 2025.

AT&T and Verizon won spectrum that was subject to early clearing by December 2021 but just as they were about to launch service in the band, the FAA raised the aviation concerns that caused the deployment delays around airports.

In a prepared statement, Craig Silliman, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Verizon, said the new agreement with the FAA “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.”

He noted that the agreement calls for the company to “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.”

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