Verizon and AT&T commit to 5G aviation interference rules to spearhead network expansion

AT&T, Verizon reach agreement for full-power C-band deployments
AT&T and Verizon have sent a memo to the FCC expressing a voluntary commitment to the rules and regulations allowing the full deployment of their newly minted mid-band 5G networks, a sticking point for which was interference near airports.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration sent a warning letter to airlines that the deadline for Verizon or AT&T's full-scale 5G buildout on the C-Band frequencies around airports is fast approaching and they need to speed up their respective adjustment measures.

On these newfangled frequencies that Verizon and AT&T bought boatloads of to continue their 5G network expansion, the outdoor antennas at or near airports may interfere with the altimeters used to establish a plane's position relative to the ground.

Needless to say, the airlines balked at spending extra for altimeter retrofits that may become obsolete with continuous network deployments, while Verizon and AT&T worked with the FAA and FCC to adjust their antenna locations, signal strength and direction away from the potential points of interference.

"These voluntary commitments will support full-power deployments across C-band, and are crafted to minimize the operational impact on our C-band operations," say Verizon and AT&T in the new memo to FCC.

The carriers spent tens of billions on C-band spectrum licenses in order to catch up to T-Mobile which got a wide mid-band portfolio via its merger with Sprint. Verizon bought C-band spectrum worth $52.9 billion in total, and AT&T was the next highest bidder with $23 billion in C-band expenditures. T-Mobile didn't buy much as it has enough such spectrum of its own.

The mid-band 5G is where the magic of high speeds and low latency, coupled with enough reach and signal penetration, happens. The high-band mmWave 5G that Verizon initially deployed is very fast but its signal can't travel far, while the low bands are for 5G coverage bragging rights as they often return lower speeds than a robust 4G LTE network like Verizon's.

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It was therefore crucial for Verizon and AT&T to resolve the airport interference issue and move forward with full-scale C-band 5G network deployment. Their agreement to follow the FCC's voluntary regulation on the matter is an important step in that direction now. As Verizon puts it, "C-band wireless operations and aviation can safely co-exist, something that’s been proven in the U.S. and around the globe."

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