5G frequency bands are like the orchestra of the wireless world, where each section – low, mid, and high – plays a unique yet crucial role in delivering a symphony of speed, coverage, and capacity. Like a well-conducted musical performance, the true power of 5G spectrum emerges when these frequency bands work in harmony, orchestrating a seamless, dynamic experience that transcends what any individual band could achieve alone.
5G frequency bands support a diverse array of use cases, ranging from higher-quality voice calls to high-definition video streaming, and low-power IoT devices. The ability of 5G to switch between these bands enables more efficient use of the radio spectrum, thereby enhancing the user experience.
Dgtl Infra explores the intricacies of 5G frequency bands and spectrum, offering insights on how they adapt to different environments and why they’re crucial for next-generation communication. We also break down the spectrum into low, mid, and high bands, detailing how each serves the unique needs of consumers and businesses. To top it off, we provide an exclusive look at the spectrum holdings of major U.S. wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Keep reading to become a 5G frequency band expert.
What Are 5G Frequency Bands?
5G frequency bands are the specific ranges of radio frequencies allocated for 5G wireless communication technology. They are categorized into three distinct frequency bands: low, mid, and high.
Each of these bands offers unique capabilities. The low band, with frequencies under 1 GHz, provides extensive coverage but at the expense of speed. The mid band, ranging from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, strikes a balance between coverage and speed. Meanwhile, the high band, spanning from 24 GHz to 52 GHz (or even higher in some cases), delivers fast speeds but has a limited coverage area.
5G is designed to optimize performance by using a wide range of frequencies across these three bands. It can even employ multiple frequencies simultaneously, known as carrier aggregation. This versatility sets 5G apart from earlier cellular technologies, like 4G LTE and 3G, enhancing both coverage and reliability.
Importance of 5G Frequency Bands
The importance of 5G frequency bands lies in their role in determining the capabilities, performance, and reach of 5G networks. Different frequency bands offer various trade-offs between coverage, capacity, and latency. Here’s a breakdown of why each frequency band in 5G is essential:
Coverage is the geographical area where a 5G cellular network provides signal and services. Low band provides wide geographical reach, high band has limited geographical coverage, and mid band offers a balanced range of coverage.
Capacity is the maximum amount of data that can be transmitted through a 5G cellular network at a given time, influencing the speed at which individual users can send or receive data. Low band delivers moderate data throughput, high band allows for substantial data throughput, and mid band offers a middle-ground level of data capacity.
Latency is the time it takes for data to travel between its source and destination over the 5G network, usually measured in milliseconds. Low band yields minimal time delays, high band ensures extremely minimal time delays, and mid band offers latency levels that fall between the two.
How 5G Frequency Ranges Adapt to Environments
By strategically using various frequency ranges, 5G networks overcome challenges like signal blockage and ensure high-quality service in different environmental conditions. For instance, a 5G network can start by using low band frequencies for long-range communication and then switch to high band frequencies as the signal approaches its target destination. This is particularly useful because building materials often reflect or block high-frequency signals, creating difficulties for cellular communication.
5G addresses this challenge by transmitting signals across a combination of low-, mid-, and high band frequencies, and employing multiple small cells to rebroadcast the signal. As a result, 5G technology effectively minimizes dead zones by choosing the most suitable frequencies based on the environment and the distance from the originating signal.
Understanding the Different 5G Frequency Bands
With its multiple frequency bands, 5G technology is often thought of as having multiple “layers”, each with its own set of advantages and limitations. Below we explore low band, mid band, and high band 5G – detailing their respective frequency ranges, speeds, coverage, and application suitability.
Low Band 5G
Low band 5G operates in the 600 MHz to 900 MHz frequency range, offering wide coverage over large areas, often spanning several miles. Although it provides the widest reach, it delivers relatively slower data speeds, averaging around 50 to 75 Mbps (Megabits per second). This band is popular for commercial applications that require nationwide coverage, as well as for private use, particularly for businesses needing to communicate with rural or remote sites.
Low band 5G is the workhorse of the 5G spectrum, ensuring that connectivity is possible even in challenging geographical areas where signal penetration is traditionally weak. Its broader coverage range makes it ideal for rural or remote areas where it might not be financially viable to install a dense network of antennas. However, its lower frequency range also means that it is not well-suited for high-data-rate applications like 4K video streaming or real-time gaming.
Overall, while low band 5G offers impressive coverage, its speed limitations mean that it is often best used for basic internet browsing, voice calls, and Internet of Things (IoT) communications in industrial or agricultural settings.
Mid Band 5G
Mid band 5G typically operates in the frequency range of 2.4 GHz to 3.7 GHz, providing a well-rounded balance between speed and coverage. This band is widely utilized for 5G networks, especially in suburban and urban areas. Data speeds on the mid band spectrum can vary between 100 and 900 Mbps. Even at the lower end of this range, mid band speeds frequently match or surpass those of standard home internet.
Mid band 5G is often considered the “Goldilocks” zone of the 5G spectrum, offering a middle ground that delivers both respectable speeds and relatively wide coverage. This makes it ideal for consumer applications like mobile video streaming, cloud gaming, and augmented reality (AR) experiences. It is also highly relevant for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that require a robust internet connection for applications like video conferencing.
However, it is worth noting that mid band 5G does face challenges in terms of signal penetration through walls and other physical obstructions.
High Band 5G
High band 5G, also known as mmWave or millimeter wave, operates at frequencies of 24 GHz to 52 GHz (or even higher in some cases), delivering the fastest speeds over short distances. This technology is primarily deployed in densely populated cities and specialized business environments to provide optimal 5G performance within a focused area. Typically, high band 5G offers speeds of 1 to 3 Gbps (Gigabits per second), although it can theoretically achieve speeds as high as 10 Gbps under controlled conditions. To put this in context, a 1 Gbps connection allows you to download a full-length high-definition movie in less than a minute.
High band 5G is the powerhouse of the 5G spectrum but comes with its own set of limitations. While its speed capabilities are excellent, its range is very limited and it struggles to penetrate solid objects like walls and buildings. This makes it ideal for use in highly populated, open spaces like stadiums, conference centers, and airports where a large number of people require high-speed internet access simultaneously. It is also an important choice for emerging applications that require ultra-low latency, such as autonomous vehicles (AVs).
However, due to its limitations, high band 5G is often combined with other bands to provide a more balanced and comprehensive service offering.
United States Wireless Carriers 5G Frequency Bands
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has allocated specific ranges of radio frequencies to different wireless carriers for providing 5G services. These 5G frequency bands enable faster data speeds, low latency, and increased connectivity for 5G-enabled devices.
The table below provides an overview of the spectrum holdings for major U.S. wireless carriers Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile across the low, mid, and high frequency bands. Understanding the distribution of these spectrum holdings is crucial, as it impacts the quality and reach of 5G services that each carrier can offer to consumers.
Spectrum Holdings of U.S. Wireless Carriers
|Wireless Carrier||Low Band||Mid Band||High Band|
|Verizon||47 MHz||245 MHz||1,700 MHz|
|AT&T||55.5 MHz||213 MHz||1,100 MHz|
|T-Mobile||54.5 MHz||319 MHz||1,200 MHz|
The table above illustrates that each major U.S. wireless carrier holds a unique position in terms of its spectrum assets:
- Verizon leads in high band spectrum, holding approximately 1,700 MHz of depth
- AT&T excels in low band spectrum, boasting over 55 MHz of depth
- T-Mobile dominates the mid band spectrum with nearly 320 MHz of depth
The term spectrum “depth” indicates the amount of frequency bandwidth a wireless carrier possesses in a particular geographic region. This factor directly influences the network’s data capacity and speed. For Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, their spectrum depth is evaluated based on a population-weighted average across the United States.
Below, are further details on the 5G spectrum holdings and specific frequency bands for each of these wireless carriers.
Verizon 5G Bands
Verizon uses a combination of low band, mid band, and high band (mmWave) frequencies to deliver its 5G services to consumers. The following are some of the frequency bands that Verizon uses for 5G:
- Low Band 5G: Verizon uses low band frequencies like the 850 MHz spectrum
- Mid Band 5G: Verizon uses the C-band frequencies (3.7 to 4.2 GHz) for its mid band 5G
- High Band 5G: Verizon has heavily invested in high band, or mmWave, frequencies for its 5G Ultra Wideband service. These frequencies are around the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands
5G Ultra Wideband
5G Ultra Wideband is Verizon’s fastest and most robust 5G network offering, utilizing millimeter wave spectrum to provide extremely high data speeds and low latency. It is designed for dense urban areas, stadiums, and other locations where high-capacity wireless service is needed.
AT&T 5G Bands
AT&T’s 5G network utilizes a mix of low band, mid band, and high band (mmWave) frequencies to deliver a balanced experience of speed and coverage. The following are some of the frequency bands that AT&T uses for 5G:
- Low Band 5G: AT&T uses the 850 MHz spectrum for its low band 5G
- Mid Band 5G: AT&T has started to roll-out 5G on mid band frequencies like the C-band (3.7 to 4.2 GHz)
- High Band 5G: AT&T’s high band, or mmWave, 5G service, often branded as 5G+, operates on frequency bands including 24 GHz and 39 GHz
T-Mobile 5G Bands
T-Mobile employs a multi-band strategy for 5G, utilizing low band, mid band, and high band frequencies to provide a good balance between speed and coverage. The following are some of the frequency bands that T-Mobile uses for 5G:
- Low Band 5G: T-Mobile has used 600 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum for its low band 5G coverage
- Mid Band 5G: T-Mobile uses 2.5 GHz for its mid band 5G network, as well as having C-band (3.7 to 4.2 GHz) and 3.45 GHz available to use
- High Band 5G: T-Mobile has deployed mmWave frequencies for its high band 5G network, including 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands
International Spectrum Allocation for 5G
The allocation of 5G frequency bands extends beyond national borders and is closely linked to global connectivity and communication standards. The global landscape for 5G spectrum allocation features a mix of uniformity and divergence. Some frequency bands are recognized worldwide, while individual countries may designate their own unique frequency bands for 5G, each overseen by their specific regulatory agencies.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) oversees 5G spectrum allocation. Similarly, in Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) manages these resources.
In Europe, national regulatory authorities handle 5G spectrum allocation within their respective countries. For instance, Ofcom (Office of Communications) manages this in the UK, ARCEP in France, and the Bundesnetzagentur in Germany.
In Asia, specific agencies govern 5G spectrum allocation in countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea. These include the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in China, the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) in South Korea, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) in Japan.
While there is international agreement on the use of certain frequency bands for 5G, such as the 3.5 GHz (mid band) and 28 GHz (high band), variations exist at the regional and national levels. The table below outlines the low, mid, and high band spectrum of 5G in major countries around the world:
|Country||Low Band||Mid Band||High Band|
|Canada||600 MHz||3.475-4.0 GHz||26.5-28.35 GHz|
|United Kingdom||700 MHz||3.4-3.8 GHz||26 GHz|
|Germany||700 MHz||3.4-3.8 GHz||26 GHz|
|France||700 MHz||3.46-3.8 GHz||26 GHz|
|Italy||700 MHz||3.6-3.8 GHz||26.5-27.5 GHz|
|China||700 MHz||3.3-3.6 GHz||24.75-27.5 GHz|
|South Korea||700/800 MHz||3.4-4.0 GHz||25.7-29.5 GHz|
|Japan||700 MHz||3.6-4.1 GHz||26.6-29.5 GHz|
|India||700 MHz||3.3-3.6 GHz||24.25-29.5 GHz|
|Australia||700 MHz||3.4-3.7 GHz||24.25-29.5 GHz|
Additionally, some countries are exploring less commonly used frequency bands for 5G. For example, China has designated the 4.8 to 5.0 GHz bands, and Japan has allocated the 4.5 to 4.9 GHz bands, both of which are less prevalent in global 5G networks.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation and latest advancement in wireless communication technology designed to connect cell phones, tablets, computers, and other smart devices. It provides enhanced data speeds, capacity, coverage, and reduced latency compared to its predecessor, 4G LTE. 5G uses a range of frequency bands, including low band, mid band, and high band (mmWave or millimeter wave) to achieve these performance improvements.
Key Advancements in 5G over 4G LTE include:
- Speed: 5G supports up to 10 Gbps, with maximum real-world speeds currently at 2 Gbps, versus 4G LTE which is limited up to 100 Mbps, as well as real-world speeds that are often less
- Latency: 5G supports as low as 1 millisecond latency, while 4G LTE is limited to around 30 to 70 milliseconds of latency
- Density: 5G supports up to 1 million devices per square kilometer, whereas 4G LTE supports around 2,000 devices per square kilometer
- Capacity: 5G ranges from being able to handle tens of Mbps, up to several Gbps per user, whereas 4G LTE is designed to handle only a few Mbps per user
READ MORE: What’s the Difference Between 4G LTE and 5G?
The impact of 5G extends far beyond faster downloads. The technology is expected to enable new applications and services, including the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles (AVs), smart cities, and more immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences.
READ MORE: 5G Use Cases in 10 Different Industries
What is 5G Spectrum?
5G spectrum refers to the range of radio frequencies allocated for 5G wireless communication technology. It serves as the “roadway” on which 5G data travels and is often divided into low, mid, and high bands, each with different characteristics such as speed and range.
In contrast, 5G frequency bands are specific portions or “lanes” within that broader radio spectrum, defined by regulators, and standardized for use in 5G networks. 5G mid band spectrum might range in its entirety from 1 GHz to 6 GHz, while a specific 5G frequency band within mid band spectrum could be a portion of the C-band (3.7 to 4.2 GHz), which is allocated to n77 for 5G.
How Do You Access 5G Frequency Bands?
Simply put, you don’t have to take any specific actions to access different 5G frequency bands. For end users, the 5G network seamlessly transitions between low band spectrum, mid band spectrum, and high band spectrum during data transmission. Most 5G devices come equipped with multiple antennas to support this functionality.
What are 5G Standalone (SA) Frequency Bands?
5G Standalone (SA) is a 5G architecture that does not rely on 4G LTE networks for any operations, including control functions and signaling. In a standalone environment, a 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) and a 5G Core network work together to manage and facilitate all 5G operations. 5G SA utilizes the low, mid, and high frequency bands in the following unique ways:
- Performance: 5G SA architecture optimizes the trade-offs between coverage, capacity, and latency offered by different frequency bands more efficiently than Non-Standalone (NSA) setups
- Network Efficiency: 5G SA extends coverage through carrier aggregation, which allows multiple frequency bands to be combined together. For example, aggregating a 5G low band frequency with a 5G mid band frequency can improve mid band coverage by up to 2.5 times
- Use Cases: 5G SA enables advanced features like network slicing, which enables physical network resources to be virtually partitioned or “sliced” into multiple independent networks using different segments of the same 5G frequency band
How Do Private Networks Use 5G Bands?
Private 5G networks are a local area network (LAN) that uses 5G technologies to create a dedicated network infrastructure for a specific organization or location, such as a factory, campus, or business. These 5G networks can use a combination of low-, mid-, and high band spectrum for various purposes:
- Low Band: If a private 5G network is aimed at covering a large factory floor or multiple buildings, low band spectrum may be chosen for its superior range and penetration through walls. However, low band spectrum generally offers slower data speeds
- Mid Band: In industrial settings, private 5G networks have made use of mid band spectrum, specifically the 3.7 to 3.8 GHz band. These networks aim to test and advance industrial technologies, offering balanced benefits like high reliability and low latency
- High Band: If high data throughput is a priority, such as in applications requiring real-time data analytics or augmented reality (AR) / virtual reality (VR), high band frequencies are more appropriate, despite their limited range