5G Frequency Questions

Carl Weinschenk
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Two things are known about the spectrum that will be used for 5G: A lot will be needed and great advances in current technology must be made for it to be suitable for use.

Both of these factors raise issues. Earlier this week, WirelessWeek reported that Verizon has responded to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with the request that it quickly open more high frequency spectrum in the 28 GHz and 37 GHz to 40 GHz areas. This spectrum became free during the summer.

Verizon wants the spectrum to be awarded for use under older guidelines instead of “use-it-or-share-it” rules that are under consideration.


Coverage of spectrum allocations focuses on a sometimes confusing set of numbers of where in the radio frequency (RF) spectrum the government is opening for use. This can obscure the bigger issue: The higher the frequency, the closer together the waves of a transmission are.

This raises two major obstacles. Higher frequency signals tend to fade more quickly and are more sensitive to obstacles. The good news, according to a story at RCR Wireless that focuses on Qualcomm, is that beam forming and multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antennas are expected to allow use of spectrum that in the past was unsuitable for commercialization. The sense is that dramatic advances, from Qualcomm and others, will continue.

Another complexity is that not all experts feel that mmWave must be a part of 5G. These experts, according to IEEE Spectrum, say that the same advances used by mmWave help out at lower frequencies. Other steps, such as the use of white space technology formerly utilized by television broadcasters, can allow true 5G at lower frequencies:

In fact, some companies have begun to concentrate their 5G efforts on these kinds of sub-6 GHz improvements. Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei has said that sub-6GHz bands will be “the primary working frequency” for 5G, and Qualcomm recently announced a new 5G radio prototype focused on the same batch of frequencies.

Technology has a way of sorting itself out. But a related point deserves attention. Marketing departments are drawn to technical buzzwords like reality shows are to conflict. Those watching the evolution of the technology must be careful that advances that don’t mention mmWave really are 5G. It is entirely possible that companies will use the fuzziness of the definitions to portray their products as something they are not.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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