Definition[edit | edit source]

The radio frequency spectrum (also radiofrequency spectrum or RF spectrum) is

a finite natural resource of electromagnetic radiation lying between the frequencies of 3 kilohertz and 300 gigahertz.[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

The radio frequency spectrum is a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in which electromagnetic waves can be generated by alternating current fed to an antenna. It is the range of radio frequencies that defines allowable or usable channels for specific radio transmission technologies.

Radio frequencies are grouped into bands and are measured in units of Hertz, or cycles per second. The term megahertz (MHz) refers to millions of Hertz and gigahertz (GHz) to billions of Hertz. The Hertz unit of measurement is used to refer to both the quantity of spectrum (such as 75 MHz of spectrum) and the frequency bands (such as the 5.850–5.925 GHz band).[2]

Although radio frequency spectrum is abundant, usable spectrum is limited by the constraints of technology. Spectrum policy therefore entails making decisions about how radio frequencies will be allocated and who will have access to them. "For the purposes of cellular communications, the RF spectrum is generally split into three categories: low-band (under 1 GHz), mid-band (from about 1 GHz to about 6 GHz), and high-band (between 24 GHz and 100 GHz). 4G mobile wireless networks use RF in the low- and mid-band, from 600 MHz to 3.5 GHz, while 5G will expand to higher frequencies. High-band frequencies are referred to as millimeter wave. Figure 2 shows the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum typically used by various technologies, including the RF spectrum available and planned for 5G devices."[3]

Spectrum is necessary for essential government functions and missions such as national defense, homeland security, weather services, and aviation communication, as well as commercial services such as television broadcasting and mobile voice and data.[4]

Radio frequency spectrum is typically government-regulated in most developed countries and in some cases sold or licensed to operators of private radio transmission systems. (e.g., cellular telephone operators or broadcast television stations). The range of allocated frequencies are often referred to by the provisioned use (e.g., cellular telephone spectrum or broadcast television spectrum).


Health issues[edit | edit source]

The RF spectrum used in cellular communications has not been definitively linked to cancer or other health outcomes, according to FCC and FDA. The lower frequencies of the radio frequency spectrum that are used for wireless communication, including 5G communication, are considered "nonionizing radiation" because these frequencies lack sufficient energy to remove electrons from atoms and molecules. In contrast, X-rays are considered "ionizing" radiation, which can have significant human health effects and are known to increase the risk of cancer. The radio frequencies used by cellular communications systems can lead to tissue heating, but is not thought to emit enough RF energy to cause harmful heating.

United States[edit | edit source]

In the United States, the radio frequency spectrum is managed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for commercial and other non-federal uses and by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for federal government use.

With unlicensed spectrum, a number of users without licenses share a portion of the spectrum, adhering to certain technological specifications. In contrast, with licensed spectrum, the FCC licenses entities to use a specific portion of the spectrum.

Wireless broadband, with its rich array of services and content, requires new spectrum capacity to accommodate growth. Spectrum capacity is necessary to deliver mobile broadband to consumers and businesses and also to support the communications needs of industries that use fixed wireless broadband to transmit large quantities of information quickly and reliably.

Policy tools that might be used to increase the availability of radio frequency spectrum for wireless broadband include allocating additional spectrum, reassigning spectrum to new users, requiring that wireless network infrastructure be shared, pooling radio frequency channels, moving to more spectrum-efficient technologies, and changing the cost structure of spectrum access.

Although radio frequency spectrum is abundant, usable spectrum is currently limited by the constraints of applied technology. Spectrum policy therefore requires making decisions about how radio frequencies will be allocated and who will have access to them. Spectrum policy also entails encouraging innovation in wireless technologies and their applications. Arguably, the role of technology policy in crafting spectrum policy has increased with the need to reduce or eliminate capacity constraints that may deter the expansion of broadband mobile services.

International[edit | edit source]

International use is facilitated by numerous bilateral and multilateral agreements covering many aspects of usage, including mobile telephony.[5]

References[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

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