The Breathtaking Complexity of the Wireless Spectrum

Visual Capitalist  |

united states frequency allocations

The Breathtaking Complexity of the Wireless Spectrum

Explore the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

As it turns out, the hottest real estate market may be one we can’t see.

Everything from space exploration signals to HAM radios are vying for room on the radio spectrum, in which frequencies range from 3Hz to 3,000GHz. This spectrum acts as the “transportation system” for all wireless communication, and blocks of it are divvied up for specific uses.

The map above, from the U.S. Department of Commerce, vividly illustrates the complexity of this allocation system.

Plots of "Land" on the Spectrum Band

Nearly all of the radio spectrum is already divided into a number of civilian and military uses. Some of the most prominent blocks (turquoise on the map) are set aside for television and radio broadcasting, as well as various types of navigation and satellite communications.

The spectrum also has a number of blocks dedicated to amateur radio and satellite.

amateur radio bands

It’s worth noting that the allocation map only lays out uses within a specific frequency, and that any number of licenses can exist within a frequency block. For categories like “fixed”, multiple licenses can exist in the same part of band provided they’re far enough apart to avoid signal interference.

Most countries claim ownership over their airwaves, so they each have their own versions of the frequency allocation map. Here are a few others: UK, Canada, and South Africa.

The Spectrum Crunch

It’s predicted that mobile data traffic will skyrocket in coming years as consumers’ appetite for high quality video streaming continues to grow. Rapid increase in mobile data usage isn’t confined to specific markets. It’s a truly global phenomenon.

mobile data consumption growth

Rising data consumption, coupled with the explosion in IoT devices and the emergence of the 5G standard, means that space within the radio band is increasingly coming at a premium.

In fact, periodic auctions for space on the spectrum see telecommunication companies shelling out billions of dollars for a piece of the pie. The spectrum auction run by the FCC in 2015 raised nearly $45 billion and 2017’s auction raised nearly $20 billion.

The Hills are Alive with Data

The long awaited move to 5G is a hot topic in the telecommunications world, and for good reason. 5G is the next generation of wireless technology, which will deliver super-fast connections for smartphones and higher capacity for broadband networks. It’s estimated that 5G will be 100x faster than current 4G networks.For a fascinating and detailed look at the 5G rollout, check out the video below.

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