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Verizon bags $2 billion FAA deal

Connection in the airplane

US operator Verizon has secured a lucrative deal to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s networks.

The 15-year FAA Enterprise Network Services (FENS) contract is worth more than $2 billion, and will see the telco design, build and operate a new communications platform that can support all of the agency’s mission critical applications. That includes providing air traffic management (ATM) to the 45,000 flights carrying 2.9 million passengers across the 29 million square miles that make up the US national airspace system (NAS). Which is another way of saying that is pretty a big deal, basically.

Verizon can’t do all this by itself, so has drafted in Saab’s air traffic management division and mission critical comms specialist Frequentis to help.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Verizon to lead the nation’s largest government transportation agency through a telecommunications infrastructure transformation that utilises the latest advances in technology and networking solutions,” said Kyle Malady, Verizon Business CEO, in a statement. “From dynamic services and bandwidth provisioning, to improved insight and visibility into network service configuration and operation, we are excited to help the FAA with a robust solution that will benefit the National Airspace System and administrative users alike.”

FENS is the successor to the FAA Telecommunication Infrastructure (FTI) contract. Implemented in 2002, it is operated by defence contractor L3Harris and connects 4,400 government sites to a highly-reliable and secure voice and data network that carries more than 28,000 individual telco services. It has a dedicated Network Operations Control Centre (NOCC) that provides 24/7 monitoring and management of more than 100,000 devices.

During FENS’ acquisition planning phase in August, the FAA pointed out that its “requirements are continual and so there must not be any unscheduled interruptions in service when transitioning from one contract to another.”

No pressure then, Verizon.

“With our team of recognised, proven partners, Verizon has expanded our core competencies, enabling us to meet the evolving needs of the NAS and the FENS contract requirements,” Malady said.

It must be a welcome change of pace for both Verizon and the FAA. The two, along with AT&T, have been at loggerheads for more than a year about the potential for C-band 5G spectrum to interfere with aircraft altimeters.

To avoid any mishaps, the operators had agreed not to roll out C-band anywhere near airports until July this year. But that all changed in January when a new FAA rule gave airlines until the beginning of February 2024 to upgrade their instruments. As such, Verizon and AT&T have had to delay their C-band deployments by a further six months.

While nobody wants to put the safety of air passengers at risk, it must nonetheless be galling given the eye-watering sums of money – around $80 billion plus $15 billion to the satellite industry – that telcos paid for their C-band spectrum only to be told they must wait before putting it to use and earning a return.

 

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