5G Spectrum Bands: What Do High, Mid, and Low Bands Mean?

The efficiency of the fifth-generation cellular network depends on 5G spectrum bands. The high, mid, and low bands bring a varying degree of capacity to the end-users. What does each band mean for the fifth-generation cellular technology? Learn about each below with special references to the US telcos 5G networks below.

5G is accelerating across the states and creating a new discourse of mobile broadband with Gigabits of bandwidth potential. However, the fifth-generation mobile network is not as easy to understand.

Different carriers operate 5G in different spectrum bands such as mmWave, C-band, and use MIMO, DSS (Dynamic Spectrum sharing) to meet requirements for specific purposes. Due to the implementation of these different bands, the 5G experience can tremendously vary and this can be puzzling to many.

Telecom companies operate their 5G network in the high band, mid-band, and low band. Each spectrum band determines two key factors – coverage and broadband performance and they have an inverse relationship. As the spectrum band goes higher, its coverage suffers while the bandwidth capacity shoots and the opposite.

Different carriers around the world implement different bands for their 5G network, which results in disparate wireless experiences. What do these 5G spectrum bands mean and what do they offer? We will explain each of them below.

Low band Spectrum for Highest Coverage

In 5G technology, low-band spectrum refers to any spectrum below 1 GHz. It is also known as ‘beachfront property’ for being carriers’ favorite. The low-band 5G spectrum offers exceptional signal coverage but the least bandwidth efficiency. It is the favorite of the carriers’ who prefer propagation over broadband.   

Most carriers employ this low-band spectrum or others as per the need as part of their 5G leap.  T mobile operates in a low-band spectrum (600 MHz) The telco wants to connect 300 million subscribers to its 5Gservice by 2021. 

Do read: C-band 5G towers could affect planes: A Ruling By FAA States

US Telcos Lead on Low-Band 5G Spectrum

AT & T also uses a low-band spectrum in the 850 MHz band in about 20 cities with over 250 million subscribers. Telecom achieved the milestone after using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) that allows the 5G infrastructure to be set up on the existing LTE network.

The low-band 5G spectrum only improves mobile broadband by a fine margin from 4G with 30 to 250 Mbps throughput. However, it does make up a wide network penetration that can transmit data through physical obstructions such as glass trees or walls.  

Currently, the US leads the use of low-band 5G with most of its major telcos spreading its 5G nationwide for better coverage. However, the technology will improve over time with the telcos integrating advanced O-RAN and M-MiMo configurations into their 5G system.

Mid-band 5G an Ideal Mix for Speed and Coverage

Spectrum ranging from 1 GHz – 6 GHz falls under the mid-band spectrum. It can carry enormous data over a long distance, far wider compared to low-band, and thus considered the sweet spot for a 5G network. Especially, GSMA brands 3.3 GHz – 3.8 GHz as an ideal mid-band spectrum. It is because multiple states already have fixed their 5G apparatus on it.

 However, there are other mid-band spectrums in use as well. The US neighbor Canada uses 2.3 GHz – 2.6 GHz. China which has built the largest 5G network of base stations has deployed a 4.5 GHz – 5 GHz spectrum. Likewise, in the US itself, carriers are using different mid-bands in different regions to better suit the need.

Also read: Types of 5G Network With Different Variants, and Releases

US Carriers Refarming Mid-Band Spectrum

US carriers are also refarming mid-band spectrum like 1800 MHz which is used for 3G. While the existing 4G towers are utilized for 5G signal transmission using the DSS technology.

Verizon has declared that it is ‘aggressively’ refarming 3G bands for LTE (4G). We could see the same pattern when the carriers make a leap to 5G without having to overhaul total hardware. 

Most of the countries in the world are using the mid-band spectrum for 5G. Japan, South Korea, and much of Europe have identified it as their best 5G bands.

The much-talked C-band spectrum is another sub-mid-band that ranges from 3.7 GHz – 3.98 GHz. This band is growing more in use by telcos as it brings a more credible balance between throughput performance and signal propagation.

Mid-band brings superior speed, capacity, and penetration. It is more versatile and offers more utility not possible with the low-band spectrum.

High-Band Spectrum Unleashes the Real 5G Speed Over Short Distance

If the low-band spectrum underwhelmed you with its 5G capacity, it is understandable. It doesn’t stand up to the hype. But it does improve in both quantity and quality with the mid-band. But the ultimate 5G manifests in the top spectrum order.

The high-band 5G refers to a spectrum above 24 GHz. This is also called millimeter wave spectrum, shortly known as mmWave that supports extremely high data transmission over short distances. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) recommends that carriers support mmWave in the 26 GHz, 40 GHz, 50 GHz, and 66 GHz for mobile phones. Meanwhile, it also suggests 26 GHz and 28 GHz are better fit for 5G as they are close to each other and handsets can support them more easily.   

Naysayers and Yesayers for the High-Band 5G

Despite its capacity of high volume data transfer, gear vendors and developers are divided over the mmWave for 5G. The reason is obvious – it cannot travel much farther, even less than a mile. This limitation comes from it being prone to interference e from physical structures like buildings, walls, trees, or even glass.  

Millimeter-wave spectrum is limited because signals can’t travel very far — in some cases, the signal will travel less than a mile — and they are also susceptible to interference from things like trees and buildings, and even glass.

It is possible that without any obstruction mmWave can offer a mighty 1 Gbps – 3 Gbps throughput capacity to smartphone users.

AT & T Offering 5G+ in mmWave

AT & T has launched its 5G+ across the US. The telco has deployed the extended 5G in 36 GHz mmWave band. Due to its higher spectrum, it offers higher broadband capacity in areas like campuses, airports, and sporting arenas. So far, 39 cities along with different 20 venues have access to 5G+.

T-Mobile has used a combination of low-band to high-band 5G reaching 200 million subscribers with what it calls Ultra Capacity 5G. The company has rolled out the high capacity 5G in 39 GHz and 28 GHz in various areas in the country.

How do these bands fare in real world?

While the theoretical speeds can inspire and amaze us, the real-world performance varies. Nokia says, a single low-band base station running in 600-700MHz covers hundreds of miles which can deliver 30 Mbps – 250 Mbps. Similarly, a mid-band 5G signal in 2.5/3.5 GHz can reach a several-mile offering 100 Mbps – 900 Mbps. At last, the high-band aka mmWave operating in 24 GHz – 39 GHz covers a disappointing one mile or below but can provide a blazing 1 Gbps – 3 Gbps throughput.

5G BandsFrequency SpectrumDistanceThroughput
High24 GHz – 39 GHzHundreds of miles1 Gbps
Mid2.5/3.5 GHzMultiple miles100 – 900 Mbps
low600-700MHzOne-mile or below30 – 250 Mbps
A rough capacity estimate of different 5G bands

What 5G spectrum band is used on your network and how does it perform? Do share in the comments below.

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