FAA gives green light to more 5G towers around airports

The Federal Aviation Administration's ongoing battle with Verizon and AT&T over ultra-fast 5G C-band deployment around airports is finally ending: On Friday, the FAA announced an agreement on new steps that allow yet more 5G towers to operate safely around key airports.

In the year since Verizon and AT&T paid nearly $70 billion for the mid-band 5G spectrum (T-Mobile 600-MHz 5G that is not C-band) -- a slice of the bandwidth that provides better reliability and speed than Verizon and AT&T's original 5G deployments -- the FAA, US, Department of Transportation, and more recently the major airlines have expressed concern over possible safety issues, which has led to multiple deployment delays.

At the crux was whether 5G C-band towers situated near airports could interfere with some flight instrumentation, namely the altimeters that tell pilots how far they are from the ground.

AT&T and Verizon argued that it was safe and that the airlines, airports, and the FAA had months to work through these concerns and any potential technical hurdles. They also agreed to various mitigation measures, from lowering the transmission power of all 5G towers to mothballing some towers around the airports. That last action occurred just as the two wireless carriers were finally lighting up their 5G C-Band service. Verizon calls its flavor "5G Ultra Wideband" (AT&T just calls it "C-Band"). TechRadar took Verizon's new service for a ride earlier this week but did not travel around any airports where the latest flavor of 5G might've been unavailable.

Now, however, at least some of these 5G C-band towers will be powered up.

"The FAA appreciates the strong communication and collaborative approach with wireless companies, which have provided more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported the more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with sensitive aircraft instruments," the FAA said in a statement released on Friday.

The location data allowed the FAA to determine that " it is possible to safely and more precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are mitigated, shrinking the areas where wireless operators are deferring their antenna activations."

The cooperation means that AT&T and Verizon will be turning on more towers. But the FAA added that it's still working with helicopter operators and the rest of the aviation industry to make sure they can also operate safely in 5G transmission areas.

As for consumers, if you have a 5G phone, it likely already supports 5G C-Band. Verizon customers might notice a tiny "UW" next to 5G when they have it. You can also test your speeds with Speedtest.net.

TechRadar has contacted the carriers for comment and will update this post with their response.

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