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US requests 5G delay amid air traffic concerns

January 1, 2022

Telecom operators in the US have been asked to delay the rollout of 5G technology for a second time. The aviation industry has expressed concern about possible issues with planes.

An Airbus plane flown by the US airline Delta
Aircraft altitude measuring devices use a frequency close to that used by 5G networks, sparking worries of possible dangerous interferenceImage: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/picture alliance

US authorities asked major telecoms operators to hold off on their planned rollout of 5G networks for another two weeks on Saturday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, asked AT&T and Verizon — two of the country's biggest operators — for the delay amid flight safety concerns.

The rollout had originally been planned for December 5, but was delayed until January 5 after aerospace giants Airbus and Boeing voiced worries about potential interference.

Buttigieg requested a delay "for an additional short period of no more than two weeks" in a letter to the companies.

High-speed Internet from Outer Space

What are the possible problems caused by 5G?

The concerns regard the use of the range of frequencies used by both 5G technology as well as the devices on aircraft for measuring altitude.

AT&T and Verizon acquired the authorization to start using 3.7-3.8 GHz — the so-called C-Band service — frequency back in February 2021 after paying tens of billions of dollars.

The initial launch date for the high-speed internet network was pushed back so that the FAA could get more information on the effects on altimeter instruments.

The agency has expressed concern about possible interferences with aircraft electronics. Buttigieg and Dickson based their request for a delay on the threat of severe impacts on air travel should the 5G rollout indeed trigger technical issues.

Competing economic interests

The rollout and delay represent financial problems for two key US industries.

The telecom operators that paid billions for frequency licenses are eager to launch the commercial use of the 5G technology.

On the other hand, the aviation industry fears potential problems caused by frequency interference that could have widespread ripple effects.

The extra costs of upgrading their facilities to make them compatible with 5G is also unwelcome news.

The letter from Buttigieg and Dickson appears to find a suitable compromise that recognizes the "significant investment" made by telecom companies as well as the "economic stakes for the aviation industry."

ab/rs (dpa, AFP)

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