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FAA clears Verizon and AT&T to activate more 5G towers

The Federal Aviation Administration has agreed on steps with AT&T and Verizon that will allow more towers to activate 5G service, the agency said Friday. The collaboration follows delays launching the new technology as airline officials warned that it could cause “catastrophic disruption” to travel without limiting services around U.S. airports. 

The FAA said wireless companies have “provided more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments.” The latest data has also led regulators to allow more aircraft to use essential airports safely, the agency said. 

Regulators said the data show operators can precisely outline the areas around airports where they need to mitigate 5G signals, which the FAA says is necessary in order for wireless providers to safely turn on more towers.

As of Friday, an estimated 90% of U.S. commercial aircraft have approved radio altimeters, which allows fleet to land in low-visibility areas where 5G services have been deployed, according to the administration. The FAA said it will continue to work with the aviation community to make sure aircraft can safely operate in 5G-activated areas. 

Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, applauded the FAA for allowing additional 5G service activation, but noted that “there is more work to do.”

“Continued collaboration, information sharing and a recommitment to science will help confirm what we already know: that 5G deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world,” she said in a statement.

U.S. wireless communications trade association CTIA also commended the developments, saying that it “highlights the considerable progress the wireless industry, aviation industry, FAA and FCC are making to ensure robust 5G service and safe flights.”

Last week, Verizon and AT&T rolled out the expanded technology — which is intended to increase telecommunication speed, reliability and power — throughout much of the country. But a day before the planned launch, chief executives of America’s largest airlines warned of “economic calamity” and said “the nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” should 5G service be implemented near airport runways due to its potential to disrupt radio altimeters used by aircraft. 

Verizon and AT&T both voluntarily agreed to postpone turning on a limited amount of towers around certain airports before the planned launch, but expressed frustration with the FAA. 

“They have not utilized the two years they’ve had to responsibly plan for this deployment,” a spokesperson for AT&T said of the FAA in a statement last week.

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