AT&T, Verizon delay 5G rollout again

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The news: AT&T and Verizon accepted a request from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the FAA to further delay the launch of 5G wireless services because of potential interference with airplane cockpit safety systems, per Insider.

How we got here: AT&T and Verizon had already pushed back the December 5 rollout of new 5G C-band spectrum to January 5 in response to concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration.

  • A letter sent on Sunday from AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg revealed that the companies intended to continue with their planned rollout of 5G Wednesday, after already agreeing to a "costly" delay from its previously scheduled launch date. However, the telecoms later reached a deal with the Department of Transportation to delay the launch to January 19.
  • The joint letter from the telecoms was in response to a memo Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson sent last week outlining 5G's potential for "widespread and unacceptable disruption,” followed by a request to delay the rollout for two more weeks. The Air Line Pilots Association also backed the delay.
  • "A delay will cause real harm,” said CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker. “Pushing back deployment one year would subtract $50 billion in economic growth, just as our nation recovers and rebuilds from the pandemic."
  • Carriers are proposing “exclusion zones” around runways in airports where 5G’s C-band signals are reduced by at least 10 times on the runway or during the last mile of final approach and takeoff.

The bigger picture: The FAA, airline operators, and the telecom industry will continue to battle over the 5G rollout as it relates to airline safety. Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, FedEx, and UPS, among others, has threatened to go to court if the FCC does not take action to stop the 5G rollout.

*Editor's note: This article was updated on January 4, 2022, to reflect AT&T’s and Verizon’s most recent decision on delaying the 5G C-band rollout.