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Today, major cellular companies planned to turn on new frequencies to make your phone faster. It’s not happening. Even Joe Biden’s White House praised the delay. That’s right, the White House is paying attention to this battle over 5G and the aviation industry. Why do you care? This story is about new technology and making sure your flight lands safely.
This battle has been going on for months, some even say years. It has to do with the frequencies the cell companies paid a lot of money to the Federal Communications Commission to secure. These frequencies are key to making 5G service faster and more robust. The total price tag was $80 billion. The question is whether signals on those frequencies near airports, could interfere with critical cockpit instruments used for landing.
BACK AND FORTH
It is only a two-week delay, raising the question of whether that’s enough time for the FAA to satisfy its concerns. When the frequencies are powered up on January 19, 2022, an official familiar with the issue says, “there will be disruptions to the national air space.” That means if the FAA is worried about a particular cell tower near an airport, flights might be diverted. The agency issued two “Airworthiness Directives” warning airlines of possible flight disruptions.
FAA QUESTIONS FCC AND CARRIERS POSITION
The cell companies say there is nothing to fear about these frequencies. They contend that 5G has been used near European airports with no issues. They point directly to France which has limited antennas around airports.
The FAA has said for a couple months it is not so sure, and has been asking for additional data from the companies. I finally got some specifics from the FAA about what data they wanted.
The agency asked for:
-Exact 5G antenna locations.
-Power settings for those antennas.
The FAA says the companies consider that information proprietary. Did the carriers hold back the data, leading to these deadlines and delays? I did not hear back from Verizon or its association, the CTIA.
FAA spokesman Matt Lehner says the FAA did start receiving the data from the carriers after Thanksgiving. When the switch-on delay comes to an end in two weeks, the FAA will have had seven weeks to examine the data. Boeing and avionics manufacturers are also part of this process.
The carriers have promised to lower the power of antennas near airports for six months. The FAA's Lehner says that power level is 2 1/2 times higher than what France is allowing near airports. This issue may not be settled for some time.
How did we get here? The FCC did its job, promoting technology and making some money for the treasury by auctioning off the public frequencies. The FAA is also doing its job, ensuring safety in our skies.
A former Department of Transportation official, Jeffrey Shane, spoke to some fellow lawyers at a conference last month and said, “don’t blame the FCC because the law tells them what to do and they are doing it.” But he adds, “ you can blame the structure.” He’s talking about both agencies carrying out their mandate, but not necessarily worrying about the other’s. Shane suggests that in the future the FCC should consider risks to critical systems. That would require a change in law or presidential action.
Let’s see what happens in two weeks. Your phone might get faster and your flight might be slower.