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Telecoms and airlines agree to share data in effort to end 5G service dispute

December 22, 2021, 8:10 PM UTC

Leading telecommunications and aviation trade groups have agreed to share data in an effort to resolve a tense standoff over a new 5G service that threatens to disrupt flights. 

The groups said in a joint statement on Wednesday that they would exchange “available data from all parties to identify the specific areas of concern for aviation.” The statement was issued by CTIA, which represents the cellular industry, Aerospace Industries Association and Airlines for America. 

“Our belief is that by working collaboratively in good faith on a data-driven solution, we can achieve our shared goal of deploying 5G while preserving aviation safety,” the industry groups said in the emailed release. 

While there was no promise that the two sides had reached a compromise, the announcement marks a sharp contrast to weeks of contentious statements by both sides. It will allow aviation manufacturers to test dozens of aircraft devices in real-world conditions, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a separate statement.

Airlines and other aviation-industry groups have been warning that there could be significant flight disruptions if the 5G airwaves were expanded as planned on Jan. 5. They say that the new 5G signals could interfere with aircraft equipment, while AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.—which bought the rights to the new 5G frequencies—insist there’s no risk.

Federal Communications Commission had been sharing some proprietary data with the FAA, but the statement appears to be a step forward allowing more analysis of whether the placement of mobile-phone towers and signal power levels will cause interference on aircraft equipment.

So-called radar altimeters, which beam radio waves at the ground to determine a plane’s altitude, use frequencies that are close to those to be used by the new 5G service. 

“The FAA is encouraged that avionics manufacturers and wireless companies are taking steps to test how dozens of radio altimeters will perform in the high-powered 5G environment envisioned for the United States,” the agency said in a statement.

The FAA has warned that it may have to prohibit certain landings in low-visibility conditions and also restrict some helicopter operations if its analysis showed a risk to safety.

The 5G service is still set to commence on Jan. 5, said Kim Hart, a spokeswoman for AT&T.

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