What to Know Ahead of 5G Rollout, Airport 'Buffer Zones'

In preparation for AT&T and Verizon's rollout of their 5G networks on January 19, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected 50 U.S. airports to have buffer zones to help reduce the risk of flight disruptions or delays.

Earlier this month, the two telecommunications companies agreed to delay their rollout amid concerns that the 5G networks could interfere with transmissions from radio altimeters, which could potentially endanger airplane landings.

Last week, the FAA announced that 50 airports have been selected to have safety buffer zones. Those airports were chosen based on location, traffic volume, and the likelihood of low visibility, and include notably busy hubs in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Miami.

The FAA told Newsweek on Tuesday that AT&T and Verizon have now agreed to turn off transmitters and make safety adjustments near these airports for six months "to minimize potential 5G interference with sensitive aircraft instruments used in low-visibility landings."

"The FAA continues to work with the aerospace manufacturers and wireless companies to make sure 5G is safely deployed and to limit the risk of flight disruptions at all airports," the agency added.

The FAA also noted that some major airports, such as Denver and Atlanta, were not chosen for the safety measures because 5G is not yet being deployed in those areas, or because "5G towers are far enough away that a natural buffer exists."

5G Airport Buffer Zones
The FAA announced that 50 U.S. airports will have "buffer zones" ahead of AT&T and Verizon's rollout of 5G networks. Here, a jet comes in for landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on April 15, 2008 in Los Angeles. David McNew/Getty Images

The announcement comes as AT&T and Verizon have been eager to deploy new 5G services since they spent billions of dollars on purchasing the rights to use "C-band" frequencies from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year. The new 5G networks will help increase speed and coverage for both companies.

The FAA concerns have stemmed from fears that altimeter systems operate over a similar range or frequencies to C-band, which could cause interference during landings. However, both companies have maintained that 5G networks and aviation can coexist, and have pointed to their success in other nations.

"The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France," the CEOs of both companies said earlier this month. "If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States."

"We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues," AT&T added in a statement last week.

Update 1/11/22 1:25 ET: This story has been updated with a statement from the FAA.