Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Graphiti

Spectrum of Issues

Increased demand for wireless bandwidth is forcing regulators to get creative.

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.

This story is part of our November/December 2010 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Download a PDF of the graphic.

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.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.