Aviation interference worries ground Verizon, AT&T C band plans

Both carriers had planned to launch their C Band networks in early December but have postponed deployment until January

Verizon and AT&T have agreed to press pause on the rollout of their C Band networks following warnings issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the 5G spectrum could interfere with aviation safety systems.

Both carriers had originally planned to launch their C Band networks in early December but have postponed deployment until January.

While the FAA has been ringing the alarm bells on this issue for some time, the administration on Tuesday more loudly cautioned operators about the possibility of safety equipment malfunction, particularly during low-altitude flight operations in a special information bulletin.  

The bulletin acknowledges that “there have not yet been proven reports of harmful interference due to wireless broadband operations internationally,” but recommends continued testing and assessment by radio altimeter manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers and cellular operators.

On Thursday, AT&T told the Verge that it is communication with the FAA and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address these concerns.

“It is critical that these discussions be informed by the science and the data,” the operator told the news outlet. “That is the only path to enabling experts and engineers to assess whether any legitimate co-existence issues exist.”

The C Band delay is not an insignificant setback for Verizon and AT&T as both have been relying heavily on this mid-band spectrum to keep up with T-Mobile, which has plenty of mid-band spectrum that doesn’t operate in the C Band and as a result, according to Opensignal, is seeing pretty impressive 5G results. Further, Verizon and AT&T spent a collective $70 billion ($45.455 billion for Verizon; $23.407 billion for AT&T) earlier this year at the C Band auction.

Wireless trade group CTIA has also weighed in on the conversation, pointing to the fact that C Band spectrum is already deployed in 40 countries as evidence that its deployment in the U.S. is unlikely to cause “harmful interference to aviation equipment” and added that “any delay in activating this spectrum risks America’s competitiveness.”

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