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How 5G frequency affects range and speed

While 5G technology offers enormous improvements over previous-generation licensed wireless networks, much of the impetus for pushing 5G into new frequency bands comes from old-fashioned physics, according to experts.

It can be difficult to nail down precisely which frequencies 5G technology will use, in part because it varies heavily across different countries and even among different carriers. There are, however, three main groupings into which most 5G frequencies will be able to fit.

The low end: 650MHz to 1GHz

Lower frequencies – from around 650MHz at the lowest up to around 1GHz – are particularly prized by wireless companies deploying 5G. Signals in this range propagate over relatively long distances, meaning that service providers can cover a huge area with a single access point.

However, there’s a serious limiting factor to 5G use in the lower range of the RF spectrum, according to Gartner analyst Bill Ray.

“[These] are very popular frequencies,” he said. “And the military and TV stations still own a lot of them.”

That’s a problem, because while the channel capacity is the same at the low end as at higher frequencies – that is to say, a 5MHz-wide channel in the 850MHz range offers the same throughput as a 5MHz-wide channel in the 2.6GHz range – the lack of available spectrum means that there simply aren’t enough channels to provide the high connection speeds that 5G advertises.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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