5G service is slated to be on Americans' phones by Wednesday, but major airlines flying out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood international airports say the rollout is a major safety risk and will impair plane signals.
Verizon and AT&T had already delayed their launch of 5G that’s advertised to make a world of difference in the quality of cellphone calls, internet and download speeds. But airlines claim that the interference it causes to landing systems could shut down airports and strand thousands of passengers.
In one corner, the aviation community and airlines say the radar altimeter pilots use for precise measurements in bad weather when they’re unable to see the ground can’t be compromised.
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“The last few seconds of the arrival, we absolutely have to have that if we don’t see the runway because we have to make a decision whether we can land or not," former American Airlines Captain Jay Rollins said.
In the other corner, cellphone companies and tech experts say they would never jeopardize passengers on board flights.
“The question is, does the 5G signals from a cell tower interfere with an airplane when it is coming to land? The science suggests that it does not,” said Bob O’Donnell, who heads TECHnalysis Research, a firm that does work with cellphone providers.
O’Donnell says in Europe the 5G has been up and running with no impact on flights for months, but when it comes to the rollout in the U.S. he said, “We’re about to embark on the real 5G era, then all of a sudden we get this — there’s a surprise — and we find out that now actually there’s a concern. This has been discussed and debated for years and it was seemingly resolved and now all of a sudden, it's an issue.”
The solution the White House announced Wednesday means in South Florida, AT&T and Verizon won't be turning on the 5G cell towers that are located near the airports at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach. Cell users within about a two-mile radius of the airports are going to have to wait.
Aviation experts say it's a reasonable compromise.
“In a situation where we can’t trust that altimeter, we would have to do a go-around. Go to another airport which adds time and money to everybody,” Rollins said.
An AT&T spokesperson said in a statement to NBC 6 that the company voluntarily agreed to temporarily defer turning on a number of towers around certain airports as they continue to work with the FAA and the aviation industry.
“We are frustrated by the FAA’s inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it do so in a timely manner," the statement read in part. "We are launching our advanced 5G services everywhere else as planned with the temporary exception of this limited number of towers."
The people who live near the airports or have their businesses nearby are standing by to see how long it takes to get this worked out. The Federal Aviation Administration says it's going to try this system they’ve come up with for up to six months and see where things are then.