Exploring the three 5G spectrum varieties and use cases for enterprise businesses
5G is more than just one type of spectrum. In fact, there are three types of 5G spectrum bands: low-band, mid-band, and high-band.
Each band is made up of a contiguous group of radio frequencies whose speed (performance) and reach (propagation) vary from one band to the next. In the context of 5G spectrum bands, performance and propagation have an inverse relationship. Bands with high propagation have limited performance, and high-performing bands have limited propagation. With these differences in mind, low-band, mid-band, and high-band 5G each provide unique opportunities for enterprise businesses.
What is low-band 5G? The coverage layer
Alongside 4G LTE and Gigabit-Class LTE, low-band 5G is part of the coverage layer. Composed of sub-2 GHz frequencies, low-band 5G has the most limited performance capabilities compared to other 5G spectrum bands. In Opensignal’s latest benchmark report, the average 4G download speed across 15 leading mobile countries was reported to be 37 Mbps. Acting as a proxy for low-band 5G, the U.S. average 5G download speed was reported at 55 Mbps. That said, with 4G and low-band 5G increasing steadily, the Cradlepoint 5G Strategy team estimates that peak speeds in the coverage layer could go as high as 350 Mbps, with maximum upload speeds of 60 Mbps, and latency in the 30 ms range.
However, the coverage layer, including low-band 5G, has the highest propagation, meaning its signal can penetrate obstacles and travel long distances. Right now, low-band 5G has the most pervasive coverage in the U.S. due to the historical lack of mid-band 5G spectrum.
What is mid-band 5G? The capacity layer
Mid-band 5G is the spectrum that comprises frequencies between 2-7 GHz. In addition to medium propagation, mid-band 5G is expected to reach download speeds up to 1.5 Gbps and, with a 5G standalone core, upload speeds can reach as high as 350 Mbps with latency ranging from 8-12 ms. Today’s mid-band speeds are in the mid-100 Mbps range and getting faster every day. If propagation and performance were bowls of porridge in a woodland cottage, this type of 5G would be just right.
What is high-band 5G? TThe high-capacity layer
High-band 5G is made up of cellular frequencies found in the millimeter spectrum (mmWave) which includes frequencies at or above 24 GHz. High-band 5G is the peak-performing layer of the 5G spectrum with download speeds up to 3 Gbps and, with a 5G standalone core, upload speeds up to 1.5 Gbps with latency that will reach single-digit milliseconds.
Although high-band 5G can carry large amounts of data compared to low- and mid-band 5G, its propagation is lower than that of the other 5G spectrum bands. High-band 5G is largely limited to line-of-sight transmission and can be easily interrupted by weather, structural interference, and distance.
To recap the characteristics of 5G spectrum bands, think of each band and their capabilities as beams of light. Low-band is similar to a flood light: It casts an illuminating beam across a wide berth but may not be the most concentrated, high-performing light. Mid-band closely resembles the beam of a flashlight that’s more precise with a smaller cast radius. High-band is like a laser pointer with ultimate precision, but a small scope of illumination.
How are different types of 5G used?
All 5G spectrum bands are alike in that they all serve use cases for enhanced mobile broadband, IoT capabilities, and some foundational failover, but the three types of 5G also have exclusive use cases adapted to their unique spectrum bands.
Many applications — including public transportation and first responder connectivity, fleet tracking, IoT monitoring, and kiosks — perform just fine in the coverage layer. Although organizations have already “cut the cord,” faster coverage layer speeds will broaden fixed wireless use cases and increase the performance and reliability of applications like pop-up stores and mobile command centers.
Mid-band 5G will continue to add to the performance and capabilities of applications that typically run in the coverage layer. For example, a first responder who previously was only able to access multiple wireless applications from their police cruiser would be able to utilize mobile HD streaming in the capacity layer. Similarly, a surveillance camera network in the coverage layer may offer a multi-camera viewing experience, but when operating in mid-band 5G, the surveillance may include HD visual recognition features. Augmented reality for commerce and public safety can also come to fruition in the capacity layer.
The addition of high-band 5G creates significantly more opportunities for enterprise businesses. This spectrum band is reserved for applications requiring the highest performance, including artificial intelligence (AI) video recognition, wireless robotics, and wireless fiber replacements. In addition to futuristic applications like remote surgeries and factories that can perform preventative self-maintenance, the high-capacity layer provides business continuity through large-site failover and can even be temporarily deployed to accommodate sporting events or large conventions.
Preparing for the launch of the various types of 5G is key to taking advantage of the capabilities. It’s more important than ever that organizations ensure their edge network solutions can seamlessly adapt to each phase of 5G rollout.