Why are airlines worried about 5G? Talking Tech podcast

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Hey there listeners. It's Mike Snider here.

And I'm Brett Molina. Welcome to Talking Tech. We've all heard about 5G, right? Well, it's back in the news again, but it's there for another reason.

Yeah, that's right, Brett. This week, AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay the roll out of new 5G connections around airports after the aviation industry, and including airlines like American, Delta, Southwest, United and air shipping carriers like UPS and FedEx, all these companies asked the Biden administration to seek a delay. The airline industry has concerns that 5G signal near airports could interfere with altimeters, which aircraft use to measure the height above the earth. This is used in takeoff and landing in slow visibility. Let me say that again. I said slow visibility, but it's low visibility.

So the airline industry concerns were that 5G signals near airports interfere with altimeters, which aircraft use to measure the height above the earth. This is used in takeoff and landing in low visibility conditions. The airline industry said in the letter to the FAA, the FCC and the Department of Transportation, that safety concerns about the 5G interference could lead to flights being grounded and "the nation's commerce grinding to a halt".

This seems really weird because obviously 5G didn't just pop up overnight. I mean, we've had 5G phones for years now, right?

That is true. We've been marketed 5G for years also if you watch TV or you get online ads on websites and things like that. The FCC has been working on this for longer than years and the FAA has been in the loop and in discussions about the giving of the spectrum out by the FCC. To prevent interference, the FCC built in what is called a guard band of spectrum between the 5G spectrum now being on by AT&T and Verizon, each of which spent tens of millions for this C-band spectrum in February, 2021. This guard band goes between the spectrum that they're going to deploy and the spectrum used by altimeters.

Now, this important spectrum would allow 5G signals to go longer distances and carry more data than the current types of 5G spectrum that are already out there. I mean, overall, this will help all the carriers have a more robust 5G network, all of them, including T-Mobile, which bought Sprint a few years ago, all of their networks will use this C-band spectrum.

What's interesting is that 5G signals are already being used safely around the world in 40 countries or more around airports, very safely. I mean, they have a band, a guard band built in between where the 5G operates and where the altimeters operate and it hasn't been a problem. For instance, the Civil Aviation Authority, the FAA for the UK recently said there's no reason this should be a problem. But for some reason, the aviation industry keeps citing its concerns.

The wireless industry, you can understand, is pretty frustrated because they spent all this money and want to turn everything on at one time when the time comes. You could tell from their public comments they're not very happy. For instance, AT&T said, "It would continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment since they have not utilized the of two years they've had to responsibly plan for this development." Or I mean deployment, sorry.

Then Verizon similarly voiced frustration in its statement when they said they'd voluntarily limit their 5G network around airports, "The FAA and our nation's airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 other countries." That's 40 other countries, not companies. We're only dealing with a couple of companies right now. That's what Verizon had to say about all this.

Wow, very snippy there. So why do you think this is happening? When do we have expect all this to be resolved?

Well, I'm not smart enough to know really why it's happening. You would think this would be resolved, but some consultants think that the aviation industry kind of hopes that the wireless operators will so much want their signals to be fully operational that they might offer to pay for new altimeters that won't be interfered with on aircraft needing replacements. So right now the clock is already ticking on a six month period where carriers said they would reduce power at airports. That window, which would end around April, seems like a good window for a decision to be reached, whether it's through compromise, whether it's through the Biden administration saying this is what we need to do. We'll have to see how it all plays out.

In the meantime, travelers won't have to worry about any potential interference with their flights taking off and landing.

That's right. Because here in the U.S, they're not running this stuff around the airports. There have been some international airlines that have canceled flights into the U.S. for whatever reason. But right now, if you're flying in the U.S., you're fine.

Well, there you go. You can read more about this on tech.USAtoday.com. Listeners, let's hear from you. Do you have any comments, questions, or show ideas? You can find me on Twitter, @Brettmolina23.

I'm @Mikesnider. You can also get all of our tech news year round by subscribing to the Talking Tech newsletter. It's out every Thursday. Just go to newsletters.USAtoday.com. Please don't forget to subscribe and rate us or leave a review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere you get your podcast. You've been listening to Talking Tech. We'll be back tomorrow with another quick hit from the world of tech.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why are airlines worried about 5G? Talking Tech podcast