Verizon and AT&T's $70 billion 5G C-Band investment is once again facing major pushback, but this time from the airlines and supply-chain companies.
After agreeing to multiple delays in the rollout of the mid-band 5G spectrum, which could bring faster and more reliable 5G to millions of Verizon and AT&T customers, the carriers now face fresh, dramatic concerns from Delta, JetBlue, United, Southwest Airlines, and FedEx (along with others).
In a letter sent to the White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and obtained by Reuters, the airline CEOs warned that in inclement weather, the rollout of 5G C-Band could lead to “more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays.”
Concerns over C-Band's potential impact on flight operations are not new. The FAA and airlines have been warning for months that the new band could interfere with some airplane's altimeters, the devices that tell pilots exactly how far they are from the ground.
Verizon and AT&T have long insisted that 5G C-Band poses no threat to aviation but has also agreed to reduce the power coming from all 5G C-Band stations and to additional delays while the aviation industry works on mitigation measures.
Verizon and AT&T's 5G C-Band 5G (T-Mobile uses a different part of the 5G spectrum) was initially set to roll out on January 5, but the carriers agreed to one more last-minute two-week delay. Now, with that set to expire, airlines and supply chain partners are raising their most dire warnings yet.
Companies like FedEx and UPS Airlines wrote in the letter, “To be blunt, the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”
One of the chief concerns of both the airlines and the FAA is how 5G C-Band transmitters might interfere with flight operations during low-visibilities conditions, such as the recent snowstorms that moved through the US on Sunday (and more are expected this week.).
In a statement released on January 16, the FAA noted that it cleared just under half of the US Commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings in airports where C-Band will be deployed on January. 19. The agency added, that it “continues to work with manufacturers to understand how radar altimeter data is used in other flight control systems. Passengers should check with their airlines if weather is forecast at a destination where 5G interference is possible.”
As of this writing, Verizon and AT&T have yet to respond to the letter and the DOT and White House National Economic Council have yet to respond to the airlines.