OnQ Blog

Ride the wave: surfing the U.S. radio spectrum on the way to 5G

Nov 10, 2016

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

How do our favorite shows and those all-important emails reach our phones? Through spectrum, the airwaves (or the range of electromagnetic radio frequencies) over which video, sound, and data are transmitted and received. In the coming 5G era, airwaves will be able to carry more information thanks to a number of technical advances, shooting data and communications between homes, robots, vehicles, cities, and industries.

5G differs from previous generations of mobile broadband in that it will use much wider swaths of the radio spectrum. The result is that we’ll be able to use mobile broadband in ways that aren’t possible today.

To make this work, we’ll need to make far more spectrum available — in all bands (low, mid, and high) and using all types (licensed, shared, and unlicensed).   

Here’s how the different spectrum bands will be used to propel 5G:

  • Low bands below 1 GHz: Longer range bands can be used for wider area coverage for enhanced mobile broadband and for the billions of low-power Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that will comprise massive IoT.
  • Mid bands between 1 GHz and 6 GHz: Wider bandwidths in this range can also enhance mobile broadband and carry heavier data loads and mission-critical transmissions from smart cities, factories, and medical devices.
  • High bands above 24 GHz (mmWave): Extreme bandwidths in this range will achieve multi-Gbps data rates, transforming the mobile broadband experience. They can’t travel far, but they’ll vastly improve mobile broadband in high-density areas.

Here’s how the different types of spectrum will be used to “create” more available spectrum for 5G:

  • Licensed Spectrum: Cleared spectrum will be allocated and licensed to mobile network operators.
  • Shared Spectrum: New sharing schemes will enable the use of spectrum that’s been allocated for other purposes when it’s not being administered continuously or on a national basis. This spectrum can be used both for its primary use and 5G when and where it’s available.  
  • Unlicensed Spectrum: Unlicensed bands can be shared by multiple technologies (Wi-Fi, LTE-based technologies, and Bluetooth) within local areas. Qualcomm Technologies has worked tirelessly to design technologies that can co-exist on the unlicensed spectrum without causing any adverse impact.

For 5G to succeed — and for 4G to continue to advance — it’s important that regulators around the world and the mobile industry work together to open more spectrum for mobile broadband. These efforts are already well under way. For example, in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is driving key spectrum initiatives to enable use across low, mid, and high bands.

  • Low Band: The FCC is conducting the world’s first voluntary incentive auction of the 600 MHz band.
  • Mid Band: The FCC recently opened up 150 MHz of spectrum in the U.S. around 3.5 GHz called Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).
  • High Band: The recent Spectrum Frontiers ruling by the FCC opens up 11 GHz in multiple mmWave bands.

In parallel with the efforts of regulators to free up more spectrum, Qualcomm Technologies is working closely with other companies to drive technical breakthroughs to make more spectrum available. For example, Qualcomm Technologies developed a spectrum-sharing paradigm known as Licensed Shared Access (LSA), which unlocks shared spectrum. In addition, the company participated in a pilot of LSA in the 2.3 GHz band in Europe.

Qualcomm also led the establishment of two organizations to help drive new spectrum-sharing technologies: the MulteFire Alliance and CBRS Alliance. Additionally, it drove the development of new technologies for unlicensed spectrum to improve mobile broadband. These technologies include LTE-U, LAA, and eLAA. And, just as important, Qualcomm Technologies created the 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system and trial platform to test innovative 5G designs that unify the mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrums, which will then be shared with mobile operators and infrastructure vendors.

Want to learn more? Join us for this webinar to see what innovations 5G will bring to the shared and unlicensed spectrum!


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The OnQ Team