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What is spectrum?

Spectrum refers to the range of electromagnetic wavelengths. This electromagnetic spectrum creates light and colors, but also powers electronic devices, wireless communication, and broadcast — AM and FM radio, walkie talkies, cell phones, radar, satellites, etc.

Spectrum is divided into different frequency bands to avoid interference so your local radio station doesn’t interfere with your mobile phone call to your mom.

Why is spectrum so valuable?

Spectrum is a scarce resource you use every day, including when you use a mobile phone or Wi-Fi, listen to the radio, or click a remote control. All of these technologies depend on the availability of spectrum. Most useful spectrum has already been allocated for AM and FM radio, broadcast TV, mobile phones, satellite, radar, and military or government purposes. As demand for spectrum increases, the supply becomes scarce.

The effective management and allocation of spectrum can provide a massive benefit to Internet users, improve wireless communications, and help put better and faster Internet connections in the hands of the public.

Who manages spectrum?

Each country has their own communications regulator that manages spectrum. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent regulatory agency, administers spectrum designated for non-federal use, while the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in the Department of Commerce, administers spectrum designated for federal use.

What are the different types of spectrum?

Licensed: Most spectrum bands are licensed for exclusive use and allocated to a specific function by a regulatory body (such as the FCC in the U.S.). Licensed bands are allowed to be used only by the company that holds a license, which is given out by the regulatory authority. For example, the radio station 89.7 is exclusively licensed to public radio in the Boston area.

Unlicensed: These bands of spectrum are used by anyone who has a compliant device that follows basic guidelines set by the regulator. For example, anyone without a license can set up a Wi-Fi router, which uses the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands. The Wi-Fi 802.11 standard defines how mobile devices communicate with a Wi-Fi router without causing interference with other devices. Unlicensed use allows multiple people to broadcast on the same spectrum frequency at the same time.


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