5G and Airline Safety: What’s Behind the Headlines

By Neville Ray, President of TechnologyJanuary 20, 2022

5G and aviation safety have been in the headlines lately, and it’s causing some confusion that we want to help clear up. First, I want to be clear that T-Mobile’s 5G network, already covering over 1.7 million square miles and 310 million people nationwide, and our customers are not affected by this. While headlines talk about “5G,” this issue is really with one specific frequency of spectrum called C-band, which T-Mobile 5G does not use today. So T-Mobile customers can continue to use their 5G phones and 5G network with confidence!

What’s going on?

5G smartphones and networks have been in use across the US and globally since 2019, including in airports and on airplanes. Early last year, to help fuel 5G in America, the government auctioned this C-band spectrum, raising an impressive $80 billion for the US Treasury. Verizon and AT&T spent the bulk of that – nearly $70 billion – on C-band licenses. So, they’re understandably invested in putting that to use.

Then, late last year the FAA sounded alarms that the launch of AT&T and Verizon’s C-band 5G networks might endanger air travel. Now President Biden, the Secretary of Transportation and airline CEOs have also weighed in. Despite the large separation between where C-band spectrum operates and the spectrum airplane altimeters use, the aviation community has raised concerns about potential interference.

However, it is worth noting that this part of the airwaves is being used successfully for 5G networks today – with no adverse effects – in nearly 40 countries globally, in Europe, Asia and many other parts of the world.

5G is a foundational technology that will create jobs, tackle the digital divide, and fuel life-changing future innovations. This is important, powerful stuff, and America’s leadership in 5G matters. But of course, public safety comes first, and at T-Mobile we take public safety very (very) seriously, so want to strongly encourage our partners at the FAA and airlines to resolve all concerns. We stand ready to help.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network will continue to operate and expand using different spectrum frequencies already in use for many years (primarily 600 MHz and 2.5 GHz – distant from the 3.7-4.2 GHz where C-band operates). By the time we’re ready to put our C-band licenses to use in late 2023, we’re confident today’s concerns will have been resolved.

So while the government works to address 5G coexistence in the C-band with aviation, you can keep getting the most out of that 5G smartphone on T-Mobile. Keep using more data, posting more, streaming more. And we will keep on building out 5G for all.