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Spectrum Bands For 5G

Spectrum Bands For 5G

Spectrum is a scarce finite resource, which refers to radio frequencies, needed by telecommunication operators (otherwise referred to as telcos) to transmit and receive radio waves, which enables us to communicate and connect with one another.

First, at the international level, various countries, major players and companies (including regulators, telcos, equipment vendors, smart phone makers etc.), meet at international events like the world radio congress to agree on spectrum usage and its harmonisation in other to deal with issues around cross border interference, international roaming agreements, inter-operability etc.

Then, at the national level, it is regulated by regulators like NCC, who auction the spectrum and provide the licensing conditions as well as roll out obligations for those who obtain such spectrum for use within the country.

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5G seems to be the innovation force which would ultimately lead to the digital transformation of various countries. It will be an evolutionary step, with a revolutionary impact, transforming and automating industries like agriculture, mining, transportation, e-commerce, health care, utilities, homes, education, oil and gas, manufacturing, financial services, logistics, etc, as well as hyper and immensely connecting humans to machines, ultimately triggering the birth of the fourth industrial revolution.

For these reasons, and more, the 5G networks have been designed to provide exponential and intelligent connectivity, ultra high bandwidth, faster speeds, low latencies, massive smart connections over large geographic areas etc. For all of these things to happen, 5G networks have been designed to work with three key bands, which will be discussed below. They are the low, mid and high band respectively. 

Figure: Software Defined Networking within a 5G system [29]
Low band: This refers to the lower frequencies in the sub-1GHz e.g. 700MHz. at lower frequencies, signal propagation is excellent and can travel over long distances. The radio signals, at these frequencies, can also pass through dense objects. These frequencies are typically used for coverage and for rural areas. E.g. think of your gsm (2G) signals with good coverage. Frequencies in this band have been pre-assigned for other applications such as TV broadcasting; hence operators cannot obtain ample capacity in this band. This band is for coverage, not capacity. 

Mid band: This refers to frequencies within 1-6GHz. These frequencies are typically used for coverage and capacity, suited for urban areas (with huge capacity demand). The higher frequencies enable the operator to transmit a large amount of data. This band is for both coverage and capacity. 

High band: This refers to frequencies within and above 6GHz. They are termed the mm wave frequencies. They would enable the operator to transmit a very large amount of data but are very limited in terms of propagation distances. This is the band that holds the 5G’s promise of delivering higher speeds. The radio signal by these frequencies can be easily absorbed or blocked by objects within the communication path. This is suited for use in hot spots (with huge capacity demands). This band is for capacity, not coverage. 

Hence, it is important that the spectrum in all three bands are combined in an intelligent way to fulfil the promises of 5G networks by providing for coverage (connectivity over large geographic areas), where needed and/or capacity (faster speeds, exponential and intelligent connectivity, ultra high bandwidth etc.), where equally desirable. 

Definition of terms used

Coverage: refers to the geographic area over which radio communication (in this case) can occur, without any interruption to such communication services.

Capacity: is the amount of traffic (data, voice, sms etc.) a network can handle at a given period.

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