It’s been a remarkable week in 5G. Dozens of international flights have been canceled or changed due to airline industry concerns that 5G operations in the C-band spectrum could interfere with aircraft radio altimeters.
However, thanks to last-minute concessions imposed on Verizon and AT&T, fears that 5G could literally crash planes have now been averted. As a result, airlines ranging from Emirates to Japan Airlines have resumed flights to the United States.
“I don’t think you’re going to see any hardware disruptions in the future” due to 5G, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said on his company’s quarterly conference call Thursday. according to a CNBC reporter.
But this does not mean that the problem has been solved. A full fix could take years and cost millions?? or even billions?? of dollars.
Will the caller pay?
According to a lengthy New York Times article, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has so far authorized 62% of the US commercial fleet to perform low visibility landings?? where radio altimeters are critical?? at airports close to C-band 5G operations.
However, there are probably still hundreds of other aircraft that have not yet been cleared to use their altimeters in these areas. And there may be a reason for that. The NYT quoted an engineer from altimeter maker Honeywell Aerospace who said the company found a series of errors ?? altimeters “getting noisy” giving no readings at all?? in the company’s 5G tests.
In such cases of interference, “the most likely solution is [to] replace the altimeters,” Peter Lemme told the newspaper. Lemme is a former Boeing engineer who spent 16 years at the company designing altimeter-based safety systems.
Who could pay for this potentially expensive renovation? Well, that’s unclear at best.
“There are only three sources of such funds for the aviation industry,” former FCC chief Tom Wheeler wrote in November. “The government could pay the nearly $82 billion generated from the sale of licenses to use C-band; this would likely require an act of Congress. The wireless industry could pay an additional tariff on top of the billions already spent on the spectrum the government said would be ready for use on December 5. The aviation industry, having known about the new 5G allocation for some time, could pay to repair the offending altimeters.
There is a priority for 5G provider payments. Verizon and AT&T have already agreed to pay Intelsat $4.87 billion and SES $3.97 billion to quickly move some of their satellite operations out of C-band.
Harold Feld of the public interest group Public Knowledge told the NYT that any solution to the issue of replacing altimeters will have to be negotiated between the airlines and the FAA on one side and the wireless companies and the FCC on the ‘other. “But both sides view the issue so differently that reaching an agreement could be difficult,” the publication notes dryly.
Now, if that’s not worrying enough, here’s where things get really crazy: According to Breaking Defense, a trade publication that covers the US military, the Pentagon doesn’t even know yet whether it will need to update the altimeters of its own planes. And the US Department of Defense is the largest aircraft fleet owner in the world.
The Pentagon’s US Transportation Command told Breaking Defense that it is “aware of and closely monitoring, through the FAA, the deployment of 5G and its impact on aviation.” But interference studies are in progress.
Waiting for Biden
Ultimately, the Biden administration is responsible for this debacle, regardless of whether it traces its origins to the Trump administration.
And, according to Politico, the president knows it. The publication reported that the White House “realized the malfunction and took the right action,” according to an unnamed wireless industry executive. “They understand now. They understand the problem. And you see the result in a clear and definitive resolution,” the executive told Politico.
Anyway, the PR disaster surrounding the launch of 5G in C-band this week?? complete with breathless reports of dozens of canceled or modified flights?? only highlights the ongoing dysfunction at virtually every level of the US government.
And those involved in the situation are fully aware of this.
“It wasn’t our finest hour as a country,” American Airlines’ Parker said.
At the heart of the problem is the NTIA, the government agency responsible for managing spectrum negotiations between government and commercial users. The agency has been without an official leader for years. Biden’s pick to lead the agency?? Alain Davidson?? finally got Senate confirmation just eight days ago.
According to financial analysts at New Street Research, the ongoing political debate over C-band could ultimately impact a wide range of other areas of spectrum management.
“There will be long-term residuals in spectrum policymaking” due to the C-band debate, analysts wrote in a note to investors this week. “For example, it probably increases the value of 12 GHz, because there is no federal government user there and FCC management may want to expedite a positive spectrum procedure to change the discussion on the spectrum… This will likely lengthen the internal debate over the next big mid-band spectrum allocation, the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, as parties will do their utmost to ensure that what has passed with the C band does not happen again.”
T-Mobile emerges unscathed
Ultimately, there’s only one clear winner that has emerged from the rubbish of the C-band debacle. And T-Mobile knows it.
“While the government works towards the coexistence of 5G in C-band with aviation, you can continue to get the most out of this 5G smartphone on T-Mobile,” the T-Mobile network chief wrote Thursday. , Neville Ray, on the company’s website.
T-Mobile’s midband 5G network operates in the 2.5 GHz spectrum, which is far from C-band or radio altimeters and therefore cannot cause any interference. T-Mobile has some C-band spectrum licenses, but they won’t be available for commercial operations until 2023.
Network monitoring company Ookla this week offered a very clear look at why T-Mobile has reason to brag?? and why the C-band debate is so important to AT&T and Verizon.
“T-Mobile continues to extend its 5G performance lead, which has helped the so-called ‘uncarrier’ attract more postpaid net adds than its major rivals combined,” the company wrote on its site. website. “That’s why Verizon and AT&T had no choice but to appease the FAA.”
The company cited data from France where operators launched 5G in a spectrum similar to C-band in early 2021. With this launch, French operators managed to double their download speeds from around 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps.
It should also be noted that French spectrum officials ?? as well as spectrum managers in dozens of other countries?? have managed to oversee the launch of 5G in spectrum bands similar to C-band without any problems.
According to the research and consulting firm Strand Consult, the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) summoned the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC), Arcep, the telecommunications regulator, wireless network operators and airlines (including aircraft manufacturer Airbus) for its mid-band 5G launch.
“They put a test plan in place, conducted tests and then developed mitigation measures at airports. They were able to keep the 5G rollout on schedule. In France, these government agencies are realizing that they must work together for the good of the people,” the firm said. Explain. “Compared to the United States, France has used reason, science and evidence to test the proposition that 5G transmissions interfere with altimeters.”
Finally, it’s important to point out that, ultimately, New Street Research analysts don’t believe AT&T or Verizon will be “materially” affected by the ongoing C-band issues.” The important point for investors is that business competition for 5G services between the three major players can begin in earnest and the dispute has not given T-Mobile an additional edge in that competition,” they wrote this week.
?? Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G and Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano