AT&T, Verizon propose limits to 5G to break regulatory impasse

Cellphone carriers AT&T and Verizon on Wednesday proposed limits on their 5G networks for the first half of 2022 in an effort to launch their services while also addressing regulatory concerns about potentially disrupting air traffic safety.

A copy of a letter that both carriers sent to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica RosenworcelJessica RosenworcelThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Hillicon Valley — Chinese disinformation accounts removed GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority MORE on Wednesday, obtained by The Hill and first reported by The Wall Street Journal, indicated that the companies proposed to reduce or cap the strength of its 5G services across the country, especially near helipads and airports. 

“We have voluntarily agreed to certain precautionary protection measures for 5G networks in the C-band while additional evidence from radio altimeter manufacturers is evaluated," AT&T said in a statement. "Though there is no credible evidence that a legitimate interference problem exists, we agreed to take these additional steps to alleviate any safety concerns from the FAA.”

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“This is an important and encouraging step, and we are committed to continued constructive dialogue with all of the stakeholders. We look forward to reviewing the AT&T and Verizon proposal,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement. “The FAA believes that aviation and 5G C-band wireless service can safely co-exist.”

A FCC spokesperson said in a statement that the "technical mitigations" by AT&T and Verizon "represent one of the most comprehensive efforts in the world to safeguard aviation technologies."

The proposal represented “one of the most comprehensive efforts in the world to safeguard aviation technologies,” an FCC spokesman said, according to the Journal. 

The crux of the issue is how frequencies from 5G may affect a system used to calculate distance between the ground and aircraft, which is measured by radar altimeters, according to the Journal.

Some radar altimeters may be sensitive and able to pick up the transmissions of 5G, though cellphone carriers contend those 5G transmissions are lower than those picked up by the altimeters. The cellphone carrier proposed the limits as a way to give the government time to look into the issue. 

Although the carriers said the limits would not have a significant impact on the speed of services they provide to customers, the Journal noted that the proposal is significant because the companies have spent billions on the 5G spectrum licenses. 

—Updated Friday at 3 p.m.