C-Band (3.7GHz to 4.2GHz) sparks FAA’s “war” against Verizon and AT&T’s 5G Rollout

Following the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction in 2021 of C-Band frequencies (3.7GHz to 4.2GHz) for use in telecommunications, mobile carriers such as Verizon and AT&T have invested a record amount ($80B USD) towards licensing bandwidth for their national 5G rollout. 

However, despite the FCC’s open process prior to approval of the frequency range, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry continues to warn of interference issues with certain onboard flight altimeters used in commercial aircraft. Their concern is that these instruments share nearby frequencies and that their performance, which is crucial for aircraft landings in inclement weather conditions, can be compromised by 5G base stations broadcasting within range of airport runways. As of late January 2022, airline executives are now warning of flight cancellations to certain airports arising out of continued concerns despite literally years of visibility that the telecom industry intends to leverage C-Band for mobile communications.

While air traffic safety is difficult to argue against, why is it that airlines and the aviation industry continue to wait until the eleventh hour to take action? Some would even argue that demanding telecom carriers to stall their rollout doesn’t resemble an actual solution to a known problem, especially one known for over five years. It should hardly come as a surprise that the mobile broadband market is surging in its demand for the speed and performance for 5G, and after spending eighty billion on licensing frequencies, these carriers are anxious to deliver.

From a technical perspective, other countries have leveraged these same frequencies for their 5G for quite some time and to date, no known compromises to air safety have been cited. From an RF standpoint, there seem to be a myriad of technical measures that can be taken to mitigate interference, anything from RF filters to frequency-sharing priority assignment methods, such as the Spectrum Access System (SAS) required by the CBRS (3.55GHz to 3.7GHz) band to help ensure incumbent systems (such as the military) always have priority.

For now, federal agencies seem content to prolong their obstinate cries for telecom to limit deployment. The federal agency infighting has reared its ugly head and depicts a deeply-rooted dysfunction in federal processes. Something has to give and for now, that seems to be Verizon and AT&T – they’ve agreed to limit power output and or delay operation within proximity to landing zones.  Without a true solution, how long will this last?

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