What frequency spectrum will 5G technology use and how does this compare to 4G?

For decades, the cellular telephone system has continually grown in adoption and has evolved from simple calling and messaging to an enabling technology for universal wireless connectivity. This evolution has continually involved the adoption of additional frequency spectrum for cellular wireless use, and this is no different with upcoming 5G technologies.

However, the now ubiquitous nature of wireless technology in consumer, automotive, industrial and even military/aerospace applications has transformed the potential of cellular wireless technology from an interpersonal communications platform to a highly flexible wireless networking ecosystem. This is evident given the changes in capabilities and frequencies between 4G LTE and upcoming 5G technologies.This article illuminates details regarding the shift in performance, frequency and requirements from 4G LTE to 5G systems.

Emerging Applications Changing Spectrum Use and Cellular Network Performance

Though earlier cellular wireless generations served applications other than mobile broadband, the bulk of 2G, 3G, and now 4G LTE cellular services are designed and dedicated to mobile broadband. The standards and technologies for previous cellular generations have predominantly supported mobile broadband cellular users in urban and suburban regions, with less of an emphasis in rural regions. The goal of 5G technologies, however, goes beyond merely serving mobile broadband, but offers key improvements that enable a much wider range of applications: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable and low latency communications (URLLC), massive machine-type communications (MMC), and fixed wireless access (FWA).

Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB)

Where 5G eMBB differs from 4G mobile broadband are 5G’s extreme data rates and ubiquitous urban coverage goals. With eMBB the IMT-2020 goals are to provide standard that facilitate peak download speeds to 20 Gbps, and reliable user data rates in urban environments of at least 100 Mbps with only 4 ms latency. Though current 4G mobile broadband speeds can reach peak speeds of hundreds of megabits per second, most urban users experience less than 10 Mbps speeds with latencies in the tens of milliseconds. Beyond rapid video downloads, 5G eMBB will enable use cases that open the door to augmented reality and virtual reality applications in real-time, throughout and urban environment.

This performance requires upgrades throughout the cellular networking stack, as well as technology enhancements for handsets. Much of the change in network architecture is currently happening, as major telecom companies are deploying more small cells to enable eMBB performance, where traditional homogeneous macro-cell architectures have proven incapable, especially in densely cluttered urban environments.

Ultra-reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC)

Though some areas experience cellular wireless performance that can be considered enterprise grade, most current cellular systems aren’t able to provide the reliability or latency requirements for critical applications, such as autonomous vehicles, mobile healthcare, factory automation, or emergency response. 5G URLLC aims to provide highly reliable, secure, and low latency communications that provide sub-1ms latency communications solid enough for use in applications that could mean life or death.

Enhancing cellular network reliability and reducing latency involves changes with how cellular handset, base station, and networking is done. These enhancements include new waveforms, lower latency hardware, and likely wireless networking approaches that enable frequency-agility, redundancy, and alternative network architecture types than a star network.

Massive Machine-type Communications (MMC)

Most cellular wireless users today are individuals using mobile handsets, but future cellular networks will likely be dominated by Internet of Things (IoT) devices intercommunicating, reporting sensor information, and acting on control data throughout modernized urban areas, factories, industrial installations, and transportation networks. Much, and maybe the majority, of future cellular communications will be between machines, which pose very different requirements than human users.

Dispersed IoT and machine devices are likely to require a very diverse range of communication requirements, making a single one-size-fits-all wireless communication protocol inviable. Hence, the new 5G standards are likely to include adaptable communication protocol methods, so that systems such as battery operated sensors with low-power and low-data rate requirements can use the same network technology as high-data rate and low-latency autonomous robots, for example. Previously cellular generations relied on using specific frequency bands for certain applications, which is less likely to be the solution for future cellular generations as spectrum congestion leads makes each frequency band more valuable.

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA)

Though sparsely used, 3G and 4G cellular networks have supported a range of pseudo-fixed wireless access systems, with hotspots and cellular modems. However, the enhanced data rate and low latency capability of 5G networks enables an attractive business use case of providing FWA to compete with other last-mile internet service. With greater bandwidth and advanced antenna technologies, many experts predict that 5G networks will be able to provide fiber-like performance and enable developed and developing markets with accessible internet and connectivity. Beyond massive multi-input multi-output (mMIMO) and beamforming capable antennas, FWA services also require bandwidth beyond what is available in the sub-6 GHz spectrum driving current cellular networkings. Large amounts of bandwidth, likely exceeding 1 GHz, will be necessary to provide fiber-like service. Hence, 5G cellular networks are including millimeter-wave frequency bands to enable new applications and dramatic increases in data rates compared to previously generations.

5G Frequencies Compared to 4G Frequencies

Early GSM cellular networks operated at 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. 2G and 3G networks change the modulation method but largely used the same portions of the spectrum with reorganized frequency bands. As 3G evolved, additional frequency bands were included as well as spectrum around 2100 MHz. 4G LTE technologies brought it additional spectrum and frequency bands, namely around 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 1.7/2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, and 2.5 GHz. All of the previous cellular network frequencies are based on licenses (Table 1).

The 5G frequency band plans are much more complex, as the frequency spectrum for sub-6 GHz 5G spans 450 MHz to 6 GHz, and millimeter-wave 5G frequencies span 24.250 GHz to 52.600 GHz, and also include unlicensed spectrum. Additionally, there may be 5G spectrum in the 5925 to 7150 MHz range and 64 GHz to 86 GHz range. Therefore, 5G will include all previous cellular spectrum and a large amount spectrum in the sub-6 GHz range, and beyond sub- 6 GHz is many times current cellular spectrum (Table 2 and Table 3). The initial 3GPP release of 5G New Radio Non-standalone (5G NR) standards included several sub-6 GHz frequency bands, designated FR1 (Table 2). The second 3GPP 5G release after IMT-2020 will include FR2 frequency bands in the millimeter-wave spectrum (Table 3).

As with previous cellular generations and 3GPP releases, various regions and countries will also likely adopt unique spectrum for 5G uses. The US FCC, for example, is considering opening 5.925 GHz to 6.425 GHz and 6.425 GHz to 7.125 GHz  for unlicensed used and is consulting adding mobile broadband capability in the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz spectrum. Currently, the FCC is actioning spectrum in the 27.5 GHz to 28.35 GHz, 24.25 GHz to 24.45 GHz, and 24.75 GHz 25.25 GHz, range for millimeter-wave 5G use. The FCC may also be considering opening 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz mid-band frequencies for 5G, and may also be considering opening 4.9 GHz public safety bands for 5G access. Moreover, the FCC may also make additional bands available for 5G in the 2.75 GHz, 26 GHz, and 42 GHz bands. In December 2018 the FCC announced an incentive action in the 37.6 GHz to 38.6 GHz, 38.6 GHz to 40 GHz, and 47.2 GHz to 48.2 GHz. Most other developing countries are undergoing similar considerations of spectrum allocation for 5G use cases.

One of the main reasons that additional spectrum is being made available for 5G uses, is the physical limitations associated with throughput and bandwidth. 4G band plans accounted for between 5 MHz and 20 MHz of bandwidth per channel, where the 5G FR1 standard allows for between 5 MHz and 100 MHz of bandwidth per channel. As bandwidth is directly proportional to maximum throughput, the 5X increase in bandwidth relates to roughly a 5X increase in throughput. Moreover, 3GPP Release 15 established new waveforms and the addition of π/2 BPSK as a modulation method. The additional waveforms are discrete fourier transform spread orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (DFT-S-OFDM) for FR1 and cyclic prefix OFDM (CP-OFDM) for FR2.

Though RF hardware, technology, and the communications infrastructure are available and capable of meeting some of the requirements of early 5G frequency and performance specifications, the majority of 5G expectations are still beyond currently accessible technologies. These challenges include cost effective hardware with the necessary frequency operation, handheld/mobile integration, and dense and highly distributed networking infrastructure. With 4G LTE services still being deployed throughout the US and other countries, it will likely be several years before 5G services beyond FR1 5G capabilities are viable.

Conclusion

Each new generation of cellular technology has included changes in frequencies bands and operational modes. This is no different with the development of 5G technologies. What is different, however, is the amount of new frequency spectrum being added, and where in the regime of the electromagnetic spectrum these frequencies reside. Moreover, the hunger for greater bandwidth is also leading policy makers and device manufacturers to eek as much performance out of the crowded sub-6 GHz cellular frequency bands with a variety of techniques that aggregate multiple cellular bands and increase single channel bandwidth. Emerging applications, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) communications are also encouraging industry to investigate a variety of operating modes for 5G to fit the multitude of applications. In many ways, 5G is being designed to become a modular solution to the challenges of universal wireless connectivity.

Table 1

2G, 3G, 4G Frequency Bands in the US

S.N

Cellular Technology in US

Frequency bands in US

Cellular carriers (Providers) in US

1

GSM

850 MHz, 1900 MHz

AT&T( Closure), T-Mobile

2

CDMA (2G, 3G)

800 MHz, 1900 MHz

Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular

3

WCDMA (3G)

850 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz

AT&T (850), T Mobile

4

4G LTE

600 MHz (B71)

T-Mobile

700 MHz (B17, B12, B13)

AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular (B12), Verizon (B13)

850 MHz (B26, B5)

Sprint, US Cellular (B5)

1.7/ 2.1 GHz AWS (B4)

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile

1.9 GHz (B2, B25)

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint (B25)

2.3 GHz (B30)

AT&T

2.5 GHz ( B41)

AT&T, Sprint

 

Table 2

5G NR (5G1) Operating Bands Sub-6 GHz

NR Operating Band

Uplink (MHz)

Downlink (MHz)

Duplex Mode

FUL_low

FUL_high

FDL_low

FDL_high

n1

1920

1980

2110

2170

FDD

n2

1850

1910

1930

1990

FDD

n3

1710

1785

1805

1880

FDD

n5

824

849

869

894

FDD

n7

2500

2570

2620

2690

FDD

n8

880

915

925

960

FDD

n20

832

862

791

821

FDD

n28

703

748

758

803

FDD

n38

2570

2620

2570

2620

TDD

n41

2496

2690

2496

2690

TDD

n50

1432

1517

1432

1517

TDD

n51

1427

1432

1427

1432

TDD

n66

1710

1780

2110

2200

FDD

n70

1695

1710

1995

2020

FDD

n71

663

698

617

652

FDD

n74

1427

1470

1475

1518

FDD

n75

N/A

1432

1517

SDL

n76

N/A

1427

1432

SDL

n78

3300

3800

3300

3800

TDD

n77

3300

4200

3300

4200

TDD

n79

4400

5000

4400

5000

TDD

n80

1710

1785

N/A

SUL

n81

880

915

N/A

SUL

n82

832

862

N/A

SUL

n83

703

748

N/A

SUL

n84

1920

1980

N/A

SUL

n86

1710

1780

N/A

SUL

Table 3

Standalone 5G (Millimeter-wave) Frequencies Bands (FR2)

Band

ƒ (GHz)

Common name

Subset of band

Uplink / Downlink Frequencies (GHz)

Channel bandwidths (MHz)

n257

26

 

 

25.50 – 29.50

50, 100, 200, 400

n258

24

K-band

 

24.25 – 27.50

50, 100, 200, 400

n260

39

Ka-band

 

37.00 – 40.00

50, 100, 200, 400

n261

28

Ka-band

n257

27.50 – 28.35

50, 100, 200, 400


Table 4

Non-standalone 5G New Radio Waveform and Sub-Carrier Spacing

Generation

UE Transmit Waveform

Modulation

Channel Bandwidth (MHz)

Sub-Carrier Spacing

4G

SC-FDMA

QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, 256QAM

5 to 20

15 kHz

5G1 (FR1)

DFT-S-OFDM

π/2 BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, 256QAM

5 to 50

15 kHz

DFT-S-OFDM

π/2 BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, 256QAM

5 to 100

30 kHz, 60 kHz optional

5G2 (FR2)

CP-OFDM

π/2 BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, 256QAM

5 to 50

15 kHz

CP-OFDM

π/2 BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, 256QAM

5 to 100

30 kHz, 60 kHz optional

 

Resources

http://www.3gpp.org/specifications/specifications

GSA Spectrum for Terrestrial 5G Networks: Licensing Developments Worldwide (December 2018)

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