From Telit: What Spectrum Do 5G Networks Use?

Jun 22, 2019

5G, or “5th Generation”, cellular technology represents a massive leap forward for wireless mobile communications, far surpassing 4G (LTE/Advanced/Advanced Pro, WiMax), 3G (UMTS|WCDMA, CDMA|1xEV-DO), and 2G  (GSM|GPRS, CDMA|1xRTT) communication platforms in terms of data rate and reduced latency.


While still nascent, 5G technology promises to deliver a cost and energy-efficient solution with close-to-universal device reach.


In order to support all the requirements it promises to deliver, massive quantities of new radio spectrum (5G NR frequency bands) have been allocated to 5G, notably in millimeter-wave bands. Back in 2016, the Federal Communications Commission opened up vast amounts of bandwidth in high-band spectrum for 5G.


As a result, the Spectrum Frontiers Proposal (SFP) doubled the amount of millimeter-wave unlicensed spectrum to 14 GHz, creating four times the amount of flexible, mobile-use spectrum the FCC had licensed to date.


In March 2018, the European Union jumped on the bandwagon, and agreed to open up the 3.6 and 26 GHz bands by 2020.


5G Spectrum Band Frequencies and Their Allocations


5G will operate on three different spectrum bands. For the average consumer, this may not seem very important, but this structure will have varying effects on everyday use.


Here’s the rundown:


Low-band spectrum.


This can be described “sub” 1GHz spectrum that is primarily used today by US carriers for 3G and LTE. This low-band spectrum provides consumers a very wide coverage area with good building penetration, but peak data speeds top out at 100Mbps.


As a result, this spectrum is quickly becoming depleted to be reclaimed primarily for 5G in coming years with ongoing sunset activities in 3G.


According to Digital Trends, T-Mobile is the main player in the low-band spectrum space, buying a large block around 600MHz during FCC auctions in 2017.


The company has since been building out its nationwide 5G network on the spectrum block; investors and consumers alike are watching closely to see just how T-Mobile manages its 5G rollout.


Mid-band spectrum.


This spectrum between 1GHz and 6GHz provides faster throughput and lower latency than the low-band spectrum. As Digital Trends notes, mid-band transmissions are less suitable for a good in-building penetration, but peak speeds can reach as high as 1Gbps.


Sprint owns the majority of unused mid-band spectrum in the United States and uses Massive MIMO to enhance penetration and coverage areas with this spectrum.


This technology groups several antennas into a single box at one cell tower, creating multiple beams to many different users at once.


High-band spectrum.


This is essentially what most people think of when they think of 5G.


Sometimes referred to as mmWave in the industry, this high-band spectrum enables speeds up in the tens of Gbps range at extremely low latency. However, high-band coverage area is limited, and building penetration is very poor.


For mmWave mobile devices to work, both the cell as well as the mobile device must use new antenna technology capable of dynamically steering and forming the radio beam to and from the cell tower.


Major telecommunication companies are working tirelessly to overcome these propagation challenges since mmWave is so fundamental to achieve 5G speed and latency targets.


As 5G players start rolling out high-band spectrum, carriers will piggyback off LTE while they overlay the infrastructure to support 5G.


Upgrades will include building small cells – low-power base stations that cover small areas. Building many of these will help expand the coverage area, but this will take time, and there’s still no major solution for dealing with 5G’s poor building penetration.


Preparing for a 5G Future


With commercial 5G networks in full rollout mode, innovative organizations can start building future-proof mobile broadband and IoT solutions designed for this next-generation technology while still meeting today’s consumer demands.





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