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AT&T and Verizon delay 5G service at airports

AT&T and Verizon said they would not activate the new 5G service within two miles of some runways, in line with a request from airline officials.

Verizon and AT&T said on Tuesday that they would delay the debut of new 5G cellular service near some airports. (Karsten Moran/The New York Times)


Verizon and AT&T said Tuesday that they would delay the expansion of new 5G cellular service near some airports, a pause that President Joe Biden said would avert potentially devastating disruptions that airlines had been warning about for months.

The broader expansion of 5G — which provides much faster access to the internet than current wireless technology — is set for Wednesday after multiple delays.

5G NEAR AIRPORTS

Aviation regulators and airlines repeatedly raised concerns that the new technology would interfere with safety equipment used to determine a plane’s altitude. The telecommunications industry has countered that regulators and airlines have had years to prepare for 5G.

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It was not immediately clear whether the changes that AT&T and Verizon announced midday were enough to prevent severe flight disruptions Wednesday. A few foreign carriers canceled flights to the United States, while Delta Air Lines said it was preparing for possible disruptions should bad weather trigger some flight restrictions still in place for the 5G rollout. Other major United States airlines and an industry trade group said late in the day that they were still trying to understand the details of the delay. Wireless companies and Biden did not say how long the pause would last.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees flight safety, said in early January that it had reached a deal with AT&T and Verizon that included delaying the start of the new 5G service by two weeks and adding safeguards around airports. But that agreement appeared to be insufficient when airline executives sent a letter to the administration Monday claiming that the start of the service could cause such huge problems that the “nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.” Biden echoed those warnings.

“This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday commending the delay by the wireless carriers. More than 90% of the planned 5G expansion will proceed as scheduled, and federal officials will continue to work with those carriers, airlines and aviation manufacturers to find a “permanent, workable solution,” he added.

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AT&T and Verizon said they would not activate the new 5G service within two miles of some runways, in line with a request from airline officials. AT&T said the FAA would choose which specific runways required the measure.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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