Aviation industry seeks longer delay on C-band deployment

As some folks predicted, 30 days isn’t enough time for the aviation industry to sort out its concerns about the C-band spectrum that AT&T and Verizon have been preparing to deploy.

Aviation organizations sent a letter to the White House calling for a delay in the deployment of C-band until “the safety and efficiency" of the National Airspace System (NAS) is ensured. There’s no specific end date attached to the request.

Last week, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their long-awaited launch of C-band spectrum until January 5, 2022 – one month after the initial deployments were expected. The delay is a blow to the carriers, especially Verizon, which has been touting the 5G benefits of C-band for months. The FAA and FCC said the reason for the pause is to “further assess any impact on aviation safety technologies.”

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon postpone C-Band rollouts until air safety review

Questions immediately rose as to whether one month would be enough time to sort out these concerns. The aviation industry promptly followed that up with a letter to the White House on Friday asking for the additional time; a press release followed this week.

In a letter to the National Economic Council (NEC), the coalition of aviation groups urged the FCC and FAA to convene a joint industry working group to bring the aviation and telecom industries together to find a long-term solution “that will protect the flying public by ensuring radio altimeters operate accurately while allowing 5G to roll out safely.”

“We believe it is incumbent on the National Economic Council (NEC) to work with the FCC and FAA to convene a joint industry working group and continue to delay the deployment of 5G technologies in this band until the safety and efficiency of the NAS is ensured. The goal of this working group would be to reach acceptable mitigations,” the letter states. “Aviation will not be able to maintain the current level of public safety and economic activity without support from the Biden-Harris Administration and the implementation of mitigations by the cellular industry.”

RELATED: What do FAA C-band delays mean for AT&T, Verizon?

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), The Boeing Company, Garmin International, Helicopter Association International (HAI) and National Air Carrier Association (NACA) are among the 21 signatories on the letter to the White House.

All about time 

How much time does the aviation industry need, and how much time is the wireless industry willing to give?

Fierce reached out to AT&T and Verizon for comment, and both referred us to CTIA, which represents the wireless industry on legislative and lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

CTIA isn’t budging on the January timeframe. “After 17 years of global study, the U.S. government found that 5G can coexist safely with flights in the U.S. Today, there are already nearly 40 countries safely operating 5G with no harmful interference to air traffic,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement today. “There is no scientific or engineering basis for further delay, and we cannot afford to fall behind as countries continue to launch and expand 5G operations in the C-band. The wireless industry intends to launch this service in the U.S. next January.”

Various paths forward are possible, such as new testing, that could give “all sides a graceful way to settle the dispute,” wrote analysts at New Street Research in a November 10 note for investors.

However, “the problem, in our view, continues to be that the Aviation side has little (to no) incentive to settle. Calling on the White House to convene a working group does point to a way to resolve the issue but the critical question is what does the letter mean by ‘significant time?’ While we laid out several paths that could lead to turning on the service in the next few months, the letter appears to contemplate a much longer time period before any 5G transmissions would be allowed,” they wrote.

Ericsson ‘stands ready’

Meanwhile, infrastructure vendor Ericsson filed a letter with the FCC (pdf) on Friday with details of a meeting between representatives of Ericsson and AT&T, as well as commission staff.

Much of the filing refers to information that’s treated as confidential and therefore not public, but the gist of the discussion revolved around the co-existence of 5G terrestrial networks in the 3.7 GHz band with radio altimeters in the 4.2-4.4 GHz band.

Ericsson presented the results of a simulation it performed that modeled altimeter interference exposure “under the actual conditions” at the Santa Monica, California, airport.

“This simulation modeled the emissions from base station equipment using Ericsson-specific Advanced Antenna System (AAS) patterns, as well as presenting data on the characteristics of those AAS in the vertical plane,” according to the filing, which doesn’t explain the results of the tests.  

Asked to comment, Ericsson provided the following statement: “We are working with our customers and the FCC to understand the FAA’s concerns around C-band deployments. It is essential that all the proper information be provided by the aviation community so that fact-based decisions on the possibility of interference to radio altimeters can be determined. None of the nearly 40 countries that have deployed 5G base stations in the C-band have reported harmful interference with aviation equipment. Ericsson stands ready to evaluate co-existence scenarios to ensure that the deployment of 5G is a success.”