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Why AT&T and Verizon's 5G Rollout Is Grounded at Airports

The CEOs of several major airlines recently sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), warning that 5G could cause interference with systems on airplanes. The letter came as AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) were set to launch 5G C-band service around the country.

In this video clip from "Editorial" on Motley Fool Live, recorded on Jan. 18, Fool.com contributor John Bromels explains the details of the letter and what it could mean for the future of 5G.


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John Bromels: Here's what's going on, tomorrow AT&T and Verizon, who basically bought up most of the C-band for 5G spectrum, they're scheduled to deploy C-band 5G service and this is tomorrow, Wednesday. However, not everyone is so pleased because in a letter, sent Monday to the heads of the FAA and FCC, along with some other folks, airline CEOs objected claiming or warning that this could cause unprecedented amounts of cancellations.

They said it could cost more than 1,000 flights and perhaps hundreds of thousands of passengers not to reach their destination and could be an unprecedented catastrophe in terms of airlines. Why? Well, as it turns out, the 5G spectrum the bandwidth that it uses, could cause interference with some radio altimeters, which are, of course the devices on airplanes that tell the plane how high it is off the ground and other systems because those radio altimeters, especially in older planes, operate on similar bandwidths to the 5G spectrum. Of course, they're saying, the airline CEOs claim that they knew that in some older planes, they might have to ground them to sort this out. But now they're saying that a lot more of the fleet, the total U.S. air fleet may be impacted than they previously realized by this 5G rollout.

They are requesting that 5G be rolled out. But everywhere, that they not deploy it anywhere within two miles of any airport. Now of course or maybe not necessarily any airport, but airports identified a significant by the FAA in a particular meeting that they held a couple of weeks ago.

Verizon and AT&T have already agreed to some buffer zones around 50 major airports across the U.S. They've already delayed the 5G deployment by two weeks at the request of the airlines, and they've worked it out with the FAA and the FCC that they are going to maintain those buffer zones, and they gave the airlines a little bit more time to figure out how to work around any disruptions that this might cause. But the airline CEOs are saying that this is not enough, that they need either a larger buffer zone around more airports or they need another delay in the rollout of 5G.

Now, AT&T and Verizon, they have not specifically commented on this letter, but they have said that in other countries where 5G has been rolled out, none of these measures have been necessary. We have yet to know exactly what's going to happen. Of course, this letter was sent or posted online on a federal holiday, and we're only a couple of hours into the workday today, so perhaps there's going to be some response from either Verizon, AT&T, or the FAA, FCC, Department of Transportation, one of the recipients of this message. However, it is interesting that this really has been signed by every major CEO in the U.S. passenger airline space, including CEOs of Delta, Southwest, Spirit Airways, JetBlue. Actually, don't quote me on Spirit. Jetblue, definitely, not so sure about Spirit. I'd have to look.

Whiteman: I don't think Spirit is an A for A. They might have an opinion, but I don't think they were in that letter, but yeah.

Bromels: Yeah. But American, United, Hawaiian, Alaskan, all are signatories to this.

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John Bromels owns Verizon Communications. Lou Whiteman owns Delta Air Lines and Spirit Airlines. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Spirit Airlines. The Motley Fool recommends Alaska Air Group, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Holdings, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Verizon Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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