Wireless companies agree to pause 5G service after airlines warn of safety concerns

A brewing standoff between airlines and wireless providers is on hold after Verizon and AT&T agreed to delay the launch of the nationwide 5G service, hours before it was to be activated.

The move comes after the CEO's of ten airlines and cargo carriers called for the halt, in a letter to the FAA, sounding an alarm that air travel was in danger. Additionally, the agency and pilots union warned thousands of flights might be canceled in the face of fear that 5G signals could interfere with planes in the air.

RELATED: US airlines look to delay 5G rollout over aviation safety concerns

After weeks of travel delays caused by COVID and weather, the warnings suggested real concern that the worst was yet to come when 5G signal towers were switched on across the country.

Tech-security consultant Alex Hamerstone says the questions about 5G safety have been brewing for years.

"As things start to crowd together, it's not surprising there are going to be some issues," he says.

For airlines, the problem is that sensitive instruments, particularly altimeters on jets, operate on the same wavelength. There's a chance they may not offer accurate readings when competing with 5G signals.

"In bad weather, planes want to know how far they are from the ground, when they can't see it," explains Hamerstone. "There's concern that the 5G being on such a close spectrum could interere with some of these functions of airplanes."

RELATED: 5G delay: AT&T, Verizon hits pause on new wireless service near some airports: here's what you should know

As we rely on more and more connected devices and services, the promise of 5G is a stronger signal to carry all that information. Verizon and AT&T argue, internationally, 5G is already in wide use with none of the problems cited in the U.S., though there are some minute differences between the two systems.

While a solution is developed that balances safety and service, Alex Hamerstone expects it's not the last time for this kind of argument.

"As the world progresses in technology, there probably will be a lot more of these conversations and battles between different industries that may be affecting each other with their new technology," he says.


It's important to note that Houston was one the nation's first metro areas to get 5G service and that the service has been available for some time. On Wednesday, 5G towers will be activated, except around airports, while the questions of safe navigation are resolved.

One solution, likely, includes a buffer zone around the nation's busiest airports to limit interaction between planes and 5G signals.