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Why Airlines Forced AT&T & Verizon To Delay The 5G C-band Rollout

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Today, January 19, AT&T and Verizon were supposed to roll out their mid-band spectrum or C-Band for their 5G network. Which was initially supposed to happen two weeks ago. But the US Airlines threw a fit and forced both carriers to delay their roll out a few more weeks.

But the big question here is why is this happening? What are the airlines afraid of, when it comes to 5G?

Airlines worry 5G will interfere with some instruments in its airplanes

For those that are unaware, C-Band or mid-band operates on the 3.7-3.98GHz frequency. While some critical instruments that airplanes use run at 4.4GHz frequency. Not quite the same frequency, but pretty close. And therefore the FAA has warned that it can interfere with instruments such as radio altimeters and significantly hamper low-visibility operations.

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That is a big deal actually. These are instruments that pilots use quite often when landing at airports that have less than ideal conditions. That is especially a big deal this time of year, where it is always snowing, and the sun goes down pretty early.

Imagine trying to land a plane, but you don’t know how far off the ground you are? That could happen with this 5G rollout, as that is what the Altimeter does for pilots.

Boeing 777 airplanes seem to be more affected

Today, a handful of international airlines have canceled flights into the US. Primarily flights that operate the Boeing 777. ANA and Japan Airlines are stating specific guidance from Boeing, saying that “Boeing has announced flight restrictions on all airlines operating the Boeing 777 aircraft”. Japan Airlines specified that “5G signals for US mobile phones, which will begin operating in the US on January 19, 2022, may interfere with the radio wave altimeter installed on the Boeing 777.”

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It appears that this affects the Boeing 777 more than other airplanes, and it’s a bit puzzling as to why – as it is not a new plane.

So, what’s going to happen with this C-Band spectrum the carriers spent $68 billion on?

Right now, it’s not clear what’s going to happen with the C-Band spectrum that AT&T and Verizon want to roll out. For now, the two carriers are keeping it away from certain airports, so that it will not interfere with the approach to some of the larger airports. Remember, not all airports have a hands-free approach. Though many of the larger ones do.

Both AT&T and Verizon are frustrated with this whole situation, but they are doing the right thing. Holding off on lighting up its new mid-band network, until more research can be done to see how it would interfere with airplane instruments like the altimeter.

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Verizon’s CEO, Hans Vestberg was on CNBC this morning talking about the issues with 5G and airports. Stating that, “we’ve done this voluntarily”, continuing that this is important as we are all flying. So the FAA needs to sort this out.

The part of the network that is not on, is very small, about 10% of the existing network. There’s no real date set for when that final 10% will be turned on.

Where’s T-Mobile in all of this?

T-Mobile actually lucked out here. It’s C-Band network won’t be launching until the end of 2022. So it kind of got out of all of this mess that AT&T and Verizon are dealing with, with the FAA and the airlines.

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Don’t forget that AT&T and Verizon bought more C-Band because it needs more than T-Mobile does. When T-Mobile acquired Sprint, it got all of that juicy 2.5GHz spectrum from Sprint’s acquisition of Clearwire. Which is being used for its 5G network, as part of its mid-band spectrum.

So T-Mobile taking a back seat to all this mess, is likely going to work out really well for them.