AT&T, Verizon delay some 5G after airlines raise alarm

Two major cellphone carriers, AT&T and Verizon, agreed Tuesday afternoon to delay some new 5G wireless service.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two major cellphone carriers, AT&T and Verizon, agreed Tuesday afternoon to delay some new 5G wireless service.

This comes after airlines raised alarms about potential interference with important systems on planes and the Biden administration intervened.

In a letter to the White House, airline CEOs asked the government for “immediate intervention,” warning that the deployment of 5G could result in massive flight disruptions nationwide.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s concern over 5G service involves a very narrow portion of the overall package of radio frequencies it will offer. These frequencies will be used to provide higher data speeds and make cellphones more reliable. But airline CEOs worry that cellphone towers on the ground emitting a 5G signal could interfere with an airplane’s altimeter, which pilots use to navigate when visibility is low.

“You could be on the aircraft, but your computer, your laptop, your tablet, your headphones could just by sheer luck be outputting a signal on a frequency that’s being used for navigation, communication or some sort of control section that could interfere,” explained internet security consultant Christopher Hamer.

Hamer says pilots flying older airplanes use altimeters to determine the airplane’s exact distance to the ground. The FAA says it’s cleared approximately 45% of its commercial plane fleet to fly — including many Boeing and Airbus airplanes.

RELATED: EXPLAINER: Why airlines fear 5G will upend travel this week

Verizon issued a statement saying: “The FAA and our nation’s airlines have not been able to fully resolve navigating 5G around airports, despite it being safe and fully operational in more than 40 countries.”

And AT&T says it has agreed to “temporarily defer turning on a limited number of towers around certain airport runways as we continue to work with the aviation industry and the FAA to provide further information about our 5G deployment”

Telecommunications industry officials say airline executives’ fears are unfounded and point out there haven’t been any problems with 5G in other countries. News4JAX aviation expert Ed Booth also has confidence that America’s airlines will ensure passengers remain safe.

“I don’t believe the flying public needs to be alarmed because the best minds in the industry, the people who run the airlines, the pilots who fly them, their union, the Air Line Pilots Association, they are not going to allow passengers to get into a dangerous situation,” Booth said.

A White House official says the Biden administration is negotiating a solution with several players with talks centered around creating a buffer at airports in close proximity to a 5G tower.

Jacksonville International Airport is not close enough to a 5G tower to require this buffer.

A list of impacted airports can be found here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.