Why the FAA is freaking out about 5G

Tech
Speaker 1: Airlines are threatening to cancel hundreds of flights, all because of the rollout of 5g. I'm Roger Chang, executive editor, and head of CNN news. And with me to talk about this whole mess is Maggie ridden. Who's been doing a lot of digging into this story. Welcome, Maggie, just quickly. Can you break down? What is the crux of this problem? Speaker 2: It's crazy, Roger. It it's just nuts. So basically the, the FCC auctioned off this sea band spectrum, which sits right next to [00:00:30] spectrum that T use and altimeter are used in airplanes to basically help them land in, um, you know, bad conditions. And so the is like next door neighbors. There's always concern about interference. So they were kind of going back and forth. And basically the, the FAA is saying like, Hey, we have an interference problem here where our altimeters might not work in certain situations, which is gonna be really bad for landing planes. And the FCC all along has been like, eh, you know, [00:01:00] we think it's okay. Um, the spectrum got auctioned off and Verizon and at, and T bought a whole bunch of it. They spent like 70 billion on this stuff. And now they're like, okay, we're ready to roll. We're we're gonna start using this spectrum for 5g. And by the way, this is like super, super important for 5g. This isn't like little bit, you know, like maybe matters. Maybe it doesn't. I mean, this is like the crux of Verizons 5g service. Speaker 1: Let's go back to the airlines because obviously [00:01:30] they see a concern, even if the SCC and the wireless carriers don't what exactly are they looking to get out of this? Ultimately? What do they want? Speaker 2: Well, I think initially they were like, Hey, you can't employ, uh, a service in the spectrum until we get this worked out, we need to know which ERs are affected. And then we need to have a plan for getting them sort of fixed. Right. So that was their initial plan. But you know, that's been batted down, right? This is a go now 5g is actually like launched the other [00:02:00] day. They're just trying to scramble to figure like, how do we mitigate this so that we don't have like a big safety issue here. And so what they've come to agree upon with the carriers is that there will be like this exclusion zone of two miles around certain airports, not all airports. And then they are working, you know, really fast to try to say, okay, altimeter these planes are okay. Um, these are not okay. We're not quite sure about the rest. And they've gotten through about 78%. [00:02:30] It still is a big mess. And it, it seems like it's gonna take a really long time to figure this Speaker 1: Out. Yeah, this seems absolutely complicated. I'm let's go back. Because as, as you said, you know, this, this spectrum, the carriers spent 80, 70 billion. Everyone knew that this spectrum was being deployed for 5g. It's the auction was last year. There's been a lot of time for the airline industry to kind of object to this. And so why are we really just hearing about [00:03:00] it now? Why are these drastic actions being taken now? Speaker 2: And you know, it, that's a really interesting question and I'm still digging into like all the back and forth and what's happened. But, you know, I, I have found in my reporting that over a year ago, the FAA and D O T sent a letter or to another agency called NT I a and that's, um, an organization that's supposed to interface with government agencies and work with the FCC about spectrum issues. And they sent a letter and they [00:03:30] said, look, we just got this report. These results show us that, you know, we don't agree with the FCC. We think that they're substantial and, and really bad Aaron's here. You can't go forward with the auction. This, this was in December, 2020. The auction was about to start, uh, that month. And basically the, the letter never made it to the FCC. It never got put in the record. And, you know, and I asked someone who I was talking to. I was like, oh, wow. I guess like somebody forgot to put a stamp on it, like Speaker 1: A clerical error that it caused [00:04:00] this gigantic mess, or yeah. Speaker 2: You know, her interpretation was like, no, this, this was not like a oops. I made I goofed, right. I, nobody made a mistake here. This was a deliberate attempt to not put it into the official record. And, um, and that was because, you know, the, the FCC and the Trump administration, certain folks in that administration, they're really hing this, this next auction of CBAN. And it ended up being like a record breaking auction, [00:04:30] I mean, 80 billion. So, um, you know, so that's kind of where we are and, and, you know, and the airlines and the FAA, they have been going to Congress, um, because the that's really who, you know, is in charge of the FCC. It's an independent agency that answers only to Congress. And so they, you know, they've been going to Congress saying like, Hey, this is a problem. This is a problem. Speaker 2: There's been lots to lots of testimony. And yet, you know, the FCC over and over has said, this isn't a problem. We don't think it's, it's a big deal. And that [00:05:00] the interference in issues like can be mitigated some other way. So, um, so it's really, the crux of it is, is two agencies not agreeing on what is safe and what is not safe, then you've got the FAA that says, yeah, but at the end of the day, if, if planes are landing and it's not safe, it's on us. And so we have to let the, the airlines know and, and, and figure out what we do about that. Speaker 1: That's a really weird situation. Right. Cause right now you basically have at T Verizon taking their cues [00:05:30] from the FAA, not the FCC, like how unusual is the situation? Oh, Speaker 2: It's super unusual and really weird and probably really bad for anybody who wants to buy spectrum in the future. Right. Because, you know, how can you now be guaranteed if you're, if you're a wireless carrier or somebody else who wants to do business with the FCC buying spectrum, that like you buy it and then some other government agency's gonna come in and say, wait a minute. Like, we think that you can't use it. It's a big problem. There [00:06:00] seems to be a real breakdown in the process in terms of, and then, you know, the other question is where has NT I a been in all of this? Right. Uh, and part of that is, again, another issue where they haven't really had anybody in charge of that agency for a couple years, um, because of some shenanigans happening, you know, under, uh, former president Trump. Speaker 2: So there's like a lot of stuff going on, but it, you know what I'm trying to figure out. Now, my big question is like, who dropped the ball here? Yeah. Because this [00:06:30] is clearly something that people knew was a problem. Uh, they've been studying using this spectrum for like, at least a decade. There's been lots to talk about it. Like, why did we get to this point where like the spectrum is being deployed and companies have invested billions of dollars, and now we're depending on this. And, um, and yeah, by the way, like there could be a problem with your airplane, like not being able to land safely. Right? Right. Speaker 1: Not, not, not an insignificant problem [00:07:00] at all. I'm, I'm curious because I I've gotten asked this a lot this week. And because, you know, when you, when you hear the reports, you read the reports about 5g interference issues. You immediately think about, you know, you not being able to use your phone on a plane and the, the risks that are involved there, but are the two similar or the, are they different situations, Speaker 2: Different situations. So this is not a matter of like, Hey, I'll just put my phone on airplane mode and like, we're cool, right? No, that's not, that's not what's happening here. This is about the, [00:07:30] the radios, the antennas that, um, the carriers are using to blast out the 5g signal. Right. And so what's really great about the CBAN spectrum is it, it goes long distance. It, it provides more coverage and that's why Verizon and at and T wanted it. Well, what that means is like, it's blasting it around airports too. And, and this isn't a situation either where like, you know, the interference is gonna cause your airplane to fall out of the sky at like 40,000 feet. Right. [00:08:00] Like we're not gonna see airplanes falling outta the sky. That's not, it. This is about like interference with these altimeters that are used to land planes in, um, situations like heavy fog or, you know, bad weather. Speaker 2: Right. And not that that happens all the time, but it happens. Right. And you want your airplane to be able to land safely. And airplanes are like older than I realized. I mean, I'm not an, an airline airplane, aviation reporter. I, I cover telecom. And so I was like, what's [00:08:30] the big deal. I thought these don't, there are lots of new planes out there. No, no. The ones that I think are new, they like first came on the market in like 1990. Right. So there there's a lot of old planes out there with a lot of old stuff in them and that it wasn't anticipated that, uh, we would be using the C band for anything called 5g back then. Right. So, um, so it's a lot to unwind and, uh, a very complicated issue. And the more I [00:09:00] look into it, the more I'm like, oh my God, a mess. Speaker 1: It it's a total total mess. Um, why just sort of the impact for consumers because, uh, you know, there's been a lot of headlines about 5g not being turned on at all. And I think there's some, some folks are being misled and thinking, this is all 5g. This is actually just a sliver of 5g, but an important part. Talk a little bit about why the C Ben spectrum is so important and ultimately like, what is the impact to consumers [00:09:30] from all of this right now? Speaker 2: Yeah. So the carriers have, you know, essentially are already been rolling out 5g, but they've been using a different kind of spectrum called millimeter wave spectrum. And, and some carriers like T-Mobile, for example, has access to a different sliver of mid band spectrum, but Verizon, especially didn't have any good sort of mid band spectrum to tap into. And, and mid band is important because it, um, it can travel longer distances. It can still give like high, [00:10:00] you know, download rates, not as, not as fast or as responsive, potentially as, as like the, the higher, higher frequency, the millimeter wave, but it provides more coverage. Um, it can penetrate through buildings and, you know, get you better indoor bridge, that kind of thing. So it's super, super important, but it's not everything. And, and the restrictions that are happening, you know, with this agreement is really just like two miles around an airport, right? Speaker 2: So like, if you [00:10:30] live next to an airport, you might not get the new great ultra wide band service from Verizon. And for at least six months, I'm gonna like guess probably longer. But for right now, it seems like the, the, you know, they're saying six months. Right. So, um, but if you're anywhere else, you know, beyond two miles away, like I don't live anywhere near an airport, you know, theoretically, um, if I sign up for one of the 5g services, like, and I have a phone that can do it, like [00:11:00] it should work fine. Um, and it's gonna work for the vast majority of the country. So I think, you know, in terms of the wireless customer, I don't think people are gonna see a huge difference, um, unless you happen to live in a neighborhood right next to LaGuardia airport, for example. Right. Speaker 2: But, um, you know, I think another impact is obviously the flying public is potentially gonna continue to be impacted by this because, you know, I talked to some pilots today who said, [00:11:30] even with this agreement between the FAA and wireless companies, like we have to show like that we are, are, have an alternate way of landing and, you know, airlines have to train up their crews to be able to do it. And like, it's, you know, we're not really a hundred percent sure which airplanes the T is, are okay on and which aren't, and it's just like a confusing mess. And so some airlines may decide to ratchet back some of their flights or, or change things. Um, [00:12:00] and so, you know, I would say if you're gonna be flying, you know, in the next couple of months, definitely keep an eye out to make sure that your flight is still scheduled to go Speaker 1: Wise advice. Maggie, thank you for helping us break down this extremely complicated and really bizarre topic. You can check out her story that really breaks down and explains it fully what's happening on cnet.com.

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