AT&T, Verizon change 5G rollout plans after airlines protest

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AT&T and Verizon said Tuesday they would alter their planned rollout of 5G service to avoid airports after US airline CEOs warned the deployment could have “catastrophic” consequences for travel.

The companies changed their plans for the 5G deployment, which was set to take place Wednesday, after the airline executives demanded the Biden administration intervene in the dispute.

An AT&T spokesperson said the firm would continue with the 5G rollout, but has “voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways” while working with airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration to address safety concerns.

“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner,” the AT&T spokesperson said in a statement.

“We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers,” the statement added.

A 5G cell tower in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
AT&T will resort to voluntarily “turning on a limited number of towers”, according to a spokesman.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A UPS Boeing 747-8F aircraft as seen flying in the blue sky over the Netherlands.
Aviation officials feared the installation of 5G services could disturb aircraft equipment.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Verizon said it also planned to launch its 5G network as planned Wednesday, but noted it has “voluntarily decided to limit our 5G network around airports.”

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries,” Verizon said in a statement.

Aviation officials have expressed concern that the rollout of 5G C-band networks could cause safety issues by interfering with sensitive aircraft equipment, including instruments that measure altitude on some planes.

A 5G cell tower in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
AT&T and Verizon had planned on introducing 5G services across the country.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane is seen overflying in the blue sky over Amsterdam.
Airline CEOs demanded 5G services to not be installed within a two-mile radius of airports.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
A 5G cell tower in Orem, Utah.
A 5G cell tower in Orem, Utah.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a letter to White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other top officials, a group of airline CEOs warned the rollout would result in widespread flight cancellations and that the “nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.”

“Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” said the letter, which was signed by the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others firms.

In their letter, the airlines requested for 5G networks “to be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways at affected airports as defined by the FAA.”

A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane is seen overflying in the blue sky over Amsterdam.
AT&T and Verizon blasted the Federal Aviation Administration for stopping them from introducing 5G services at airports.
NurPhoto via Getty Images
United Airlines planes are seen at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, United States on September 29, 2021.
Several CEOs of major US airlines warned that “traveling and shipping public will essentially be grounded,” if AT&T and Verizon introduced 5G networks.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A 5G cell tower in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
An AT&T spokesman claims “nearly 40 countries” have safely introduced 5G services.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said it was working to achieve a resolution to the dispute.

“We’re committed to reaching a solution around 5G,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

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