Cellular phone carriers use over-the-air broadcast signals or frequencies, so you can complete calls, download data, surf the Net or check your social media pages. All over-the-air frequencies are commonly called the "spectrum," and are issued and controlled by the Federal Communications Commission. FCC oversight ensures signals from one carrier or broadcast entity don’t overlap with those of others. A complete list of carriers and their frequency on the spectrum can be accessed on the FCC website.
The frequencies or spectrum for cellular phones function much like radio stations on your dial. When you tune a radio to 91.7, for example; you’re actually tuning to a station broadcasting at 91.7-MHz. When you call someone on a mobile phone, you’re using the frequency assigned to that carrier. The difference between broadcast frequencies and cellular phone frequencies is that radio station signals will fade as you get farther away from the transmitter. Cellular phone networks are set up with towers that pick up the signals as you travel, allowing uninterrupted service across town or across the country.
AT&T uses a combination of the 850-MHz and 1900-MHz frequencies for 2G, 3G and voice communications. For its 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network AT&T utilizes the Lower 700-MHz C block with frequencies ranges from 698 to 746-MHz.
Sprint PCS uses CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology at the 1900-MHz frequency. This applies to both voice coverage and EVDO broadband. For its 4G TLE network Sprint utilizes the 1.9-GHz and 800-MHz frequency ranges.
Verizon uses a combination of the 850-MHz and 1900-MHz frequencies for 2G, 3G and voice communications. For its 4G LTE network Verizon utilizes the Upper 700-MHz C block with frequencies ranges from 746 to 787-MHz.
T-Mobile uses the 1700-MHz frequency for its network. For its 4G network, T-Mobile utilizes the 1700 to 2100-MHz frequency ranges.
With the addition of millions of new data-consuming devices, from cell phones to tablets, the need for additional bandwidth on the spectrum is staggering. The FCC is working on ways to make more spectrum available for commercial use. These include reclaiming government bands for commercial applications, and using underused TV frequencies to increase spectrum space. The FCC has set a goal of making up to 500-MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use by 2020, according to an article on CNET.com. Meeting the insatiable demand for spectrum space presents an incredible challenge for the FCC.
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