Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »


Scroll left and right to see how different portions of wireless spectrum are divided up for different purposes. Roll over the headlines at the top of the graphic for more about specific applications.
Interactive by FFunction, Matt Mahoney, and Will Knight.

The radio frequency spectrum, which once seemed to offer virtually unlimited capacity for communication, has become crowded as smart phones and other wireless devices increasingly gobble up bandwidth. One obvious solution has been to let the private sector buy access to underused slices of the spectrum previously reserved for government. In the United States, auctions for those licenses have been going on since 1994; in recent years, these mutibillion-dollar spectrum auctions have allowed telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile to improve 3G networks and build their faster next-generation networks. But in September, the Federal Communications Commission gave its final approval to a potentially more revolutionary policy. It allows certain wireless networks to provide broadband services over the so-called “white spaces,” unused areas between stations in the TV broadcast spectrum. Vastly more white spaces are available now that TV broadcasters have switched from analog to digital transmissions. The exact details of how wireless devices will know if a channel is unoccupied and available for broadcast in a particular area are still being finalized. But if the experiment works and more wireless devices can peacefully share the public airwaves, it could lead to a much more efficient and flexible use of the entire spectrum.

Source: The graphic is based on the National Telecommunications Information Administration’s United States Frequency Allocations chart. Categories have been simplified, so “Fixed” and “Fixed Satellite,” for instance, are here grouped as one. “Other” includes aeronautical and mobile communications, radiolocation and radionavigation, scientific and meteorological research, space operation and research, and inter-satellite communication. Auction data is from the Federal Communications Commission.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Credit: Information graphic by Tommy McCall and Matt Mahoney

Tagged: Communications

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me