AT&T and Verizon delay 5G rollout at some airports after airlines warn of disruptions

AT&T says it's "frustrated" by the situation.

Landing airplane (Jetlinerimages via Getty Images)

AT&T and Verizon say they will voluntarily delay the deployment of their new C-Band 5G services near some US airports after several carriers, including Delta, United and Southwest Airlines, wrote to the federal government to warn of potential flight delays due to the rollout. An AT&T spokesperson told CNBC the carrier was “frustrated” by the Federal Aviation Administration’s inability to safely deploy the networking standard without disrupting aviation services, a feat the company said 40 other countries have done without issue.

Verizon shared AT&T’s sentiment. “We have voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports,” the company said. “The Federal Aviation Administration and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries.”

In a letter obtained by Reuters, airlines warned interference from 5G cell towers could affect the safety equipment on their planes. Devices like airplane altimeters, which pilots use to land when visibility is low, operate on C-Band adjacent frequencies. Airlines asked that AT&T and Verizon not offer 5G service within two miles of some of the country’s busiest airports. “Immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies,” they said.

Before airlines sent out the letter to government officials, AT&T and Verizon had agreed to establish buffer zones around 50 airports to reduce the risk of flight disruption. They also agreed to a month-long delay in December, and then a further two-week delay in January, to give the FAA more time to address any interference concerns.

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