Enterprise wireless used to be about simply making sure employees had sufficient cellular coverage. But with each successive generation, from 1G in the 1980s to 5G now, wireless connectivity has become the ultimate enabler of innovation for every industry. Arnold Kim, COO of ADRF, explores the three layers of enterprise 5G and the process of selecting the right frequency for your network.
Enterprises must be proactive in learning the changing standards and deploying the most suitable solutions to maximize business productivity as well as avoid costly rip and replace scenarios. Enterprises looking to innovate should understand the characteristics of each type of 5G spectrum as they consider installing their own private wireless network.
What Are the Three Layers of 5G?
5G connectivity in the US is powered by three types of radio frequency (RF), or layers, each with its own unique characteristics.Â
- High band: Also known as mmWave, this is sensitive to obstruction and travels shorter distances but can provide higher bandwidth and throughput, allowing more data to be transmitted.Â
- Low band: This ranges aroundÂ 600, 700, and 800 MHz and has the most robust signal but limited bandwidth.Â
- Mid-band: This includes C-band and provides more bandwidth than the low-band but is more resilient than mmWave. Many experts view mid-band as an ideal balance of range, penetration, and transmission speeds.Â
While all US mobile network operators (MNO) now possess some of each spectrum to roll out their 5G networks, initially, they had diverse strategies. Verizon and AT&T were investing heavily in the high band (28 and 39 GHz), while T-Mobile (post-Sprint acquisition) offered a combination of the low-band (600 and 700 MHz) and mid-band (1.7, 1.9, and 2.5 GHz).Â
The $81.2 billion C-bandOpens a new window auction in February 2021 allowed the US MNO to build out their nationwide 5G networks fully. Verizon spent $45.4 billion for 3,511 licenses, AT&T secured 1,621 licenses for $23.4 billion, and T-Mobile received 142 licenses for $9.3 billion. Moreover, the US MNO committed another $22.4 billion in FCC Auction 110 in January 2022. AT&T secured 1,624 licenses for $9.1 billion, Dish spent $7.3 billion for 1,232 licenses, and T-Mobile received 199 licenses for $2.9 billion.
Which Type of Frequency Is Best for Your Network?
Enterprises considering a private 5G network should understand the benefits and drawbacks of each band. For instance, mid-band would be a more efficient choice for a major manufacturer or shipping company building an autonomous robot fleet for their factory line. High-band would enable higher peak throughput but at a substantially higher cost of network infrastructure to offset the short distances supported by the easily obstructed signal. Conversely, an oil and gas refinery or water-power utility might value coverage over throughput to support operations on their hybrid indoor-outdoor campus, in which case, low-band would be more cost-effective.Â
There are also use cases where venues would benefit from utilizing multiple bands. An NFL stadium, for instance, can leverage high-band in the stands to enable the best fan experience, mid-band for robust capacity in the suites and concession areas, and low-band to ensure coverage in the parking lots.
These use cases underline the importance of modular wireless infrastructure, such as distributed antenna systems (DAS), that support multiple frequency bands to prevent enterprises from having to upgrade obsolete technology. As enterprises recognize the more powerful productivity 5G provides, understanding the cost-benefit profile of each band will help companies better match their wireless solutions with their business needs.