U.S. FAA says Verizon, AT&T can turn on more towers for 5G deployment

FILE PHOTO: A contract crew from Verizon installs 5G telecommunications equipment on a tower in Orem, Utah, U.S. December 3, 2019. Picture taken December 3, 2019. REUTERS/George Frey//File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Friday it has agreed that Verizon Communications and AT&T can safely turn on more towers for C-Band 5G deployment.

The FAA said it and the wireless carriers "have agreed on steps that will enable more aircraft to safely use key airports while also enabling more towers to deploy 5G service." The FAA said more precise data about the exact location of wireless transmitters allowed it "to determine that it is possible to safely and more precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals are mitigated, shrinking the areas where wireless operators are deferring their antenna activations."

AT&T and Verizon on agreed on Jan. 18 to temporarily not turn on about 510 towers near airports over the FAA's concerns about interference with airplane radio altimeters averting what major airlines had said would be a "catastrophic" impact on U.S. aviation.

The FAA plans to issue updated documents as soon as later on Friday to allow for more operations in poor weather "with new runways that previously were unavailable. We're getting them to the operators as quickly as possible so they can make scheduling decisions."

CTIA, an industry trade group representing wireless carriers, said called the FAA announcement "a positive development that highlights the considerable progress the wireless industry, aviation industry, FAA and (Federal Communications Commission) are making to ensure robust 5G service and safe flights."

The FAA added that "5G signals from some existing towers that were inside the old protected areas but are outside the new protected areas do not pose unacceptable safety risks to aircraft approaching airports in low-visibility conditions. Therefore, the FAA was able to newly approve certain aircraft – specifically Airbus and Embraer 170/190s – for low-visibility approaches at airports where they couldn’t previously make them."

Airline industry officials say the FAA plans to further refine the zones around airports at a later date that will allow Verizon and AT&T to use additional towers near airports. About 500 of the towers that were not turned on last week are Verizon towers, officials told Reuters.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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