Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless as witnessed by the recent multi-billion dollar prices paid for new cellular spectrum in Canada. Cellular carriers and broadcasters manage spectrum everyday as they are in the communications business. This post is for everyone else – the businesses and government for whom wireless communications is a means to accomplish their organization’s primary ambitions.
Physics dictates that lower frequencies go further and are better dealing with obstacles like foliage or terrain. Higher frequencies provide bigger bandwidth possibilities, but generally don’t travel as far and need better line-of-sight. Factors such as antenna height and power can have equally important impacts on relative performance. So, choosing the right frequency spectrum is a vital part of good wireless system design.
Wireless spectrum is getting crowded around the world. Industry Canada does spectrum management in Canada and most organizations can only access certain frequencies. The busy visual below shows just a part of the Radio Frequency Allocation Chart that Industry Canada manages.
Canadian Wireless Spectrum Usage (Click to Enlarge)
Here are the 10 most common frequencies that Canadian public and private sector organizations need to know along with some pros and cons for each.
VHF (138-174 MHz) – The original standard for push-to-talk voice
One of the first frequencies to be widely used is still the go-to for marine, air-to-ground and land mobile radio (LMR) radio users. It provides great range with reasonable voice quality and some limited data applications. Licensed spectrum can be difficult to secure – especially in urban areas.
Generally speaking, VHF is best for outdoor applications where you need a lot of range and where there aren’t any obstructions. For example, many rural fire departments and long haul trucking industries use this frequency.
UHF (406-470MHz) – A multipurpose performer in urban environments
Another popular LMR frequency for push-to-talk voice, UHF offers better building penetration and tends to perform better in urban environments. UHF is also used for affordable SCADA applications. Licensed spectrum.
However, this frequency does offer decent coverage, making it a good in-between option for those requiring both distance and in-building coverage.
Schools, warehouses and retail stores, for instance, tend to use UHF radios.
If you’re deciding between VHF and UHF, our blog post, VHF Vs. UHF Two Way Radios – Which is Better for Your Business can help with your decision.
700 MHz – The new spectrum for public safety
Industry Canada has made 700 MHz available only for public safety and related organizations. Initial uptake is for LMR, especially for wide area systems being shared by multiple agencies. New LTE systems are starting to be deployed which offer rich data capabilities for increasingly popular public safety applications like mobile video. Licensed only for public safety.
800 MHz – Still popular for LMR trunking systems
The 800MHz spectrum has been a workhorse for trunked two way radio systems for public safety and private systems. Public safety use is declining quickly in favor of 700MHz, but expect to see it continue for commercial applications like oil & gas plants. Licensed.
900 MHz – Sometimes overused license-free spectrum
Widely used for everything from your cordless phone (if you still have one) to your rural wireless internet service provider. Easy to deploy, as no Industry Canada licensing is required. Also means possible interference and conflict with others and Industry Canada not likely to intervene to help resolve. Still great for certain applications, but not suitable for mission-critical. License-free.
Generally speaking, this frequency is great for those who need in-building coverage. Typical industries including schools, hotels, retail and light manufacturing.
2.4 GHz – The go-to for WiFi
Another license-free and busy piece of spectrum. Some 900MHz devices migrated to 2.4GHz to get to fresh spectrum but the now-dominant use is for the ubiquitous WiFi. Even WiFi is finding this spectrum a bit congested and with 802.11ac is moving up to also use 5GHz. License-free.
3.65 GHz – Working on the promise of WiMax
Remember when WiMax was announced as the “WiFi on steroids’ that would be the new standard because of its range and bandwidth? Sure, the hype may have settled, but municipalities and wireless internet providers (WISPs) are still deploying point-to-multipoint with some comfort of a more controlled spectrum.
In general (and in Canada), WiMax is mostly used for fixed wireless in situations where licensed frequencies are required.
4.9 GHz – Broadband for public safety
Another set-aside protected for public safety and associate users. Ideal for point-to-point links for public safety applications like backhauling video surveillance and linking public safety towers and sites. Licensed.
5.7/5.8 GHz – Broadband for the rest
Similar performance and uses to 4.9 GHz but open to all. Excellent for both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint applications that need bandwidth and now also WiFi. It’s license-free which means spectrum cannot be protected, but good RF planning and design can deliver high-reliability bandwidth for a wide range of public and private sector uses. License-free.
6–30 GHz – Microwave spectrum for high-bandwidth high-reliability requirements
Used for high-performance point-to-point links when big bandwidth and/or high availability is critical. This is licensed spectrum which provides confidence that your deployment will have dedicated frequencies, although comes with the associated licensing and equipment costs. Licensed.
Wrapping It Up
In addition to these common frequencies there are many others for specialized applications and users that we also work with, like 1.8GHz for the utilities industry.
Selecting the right frequencies for your next wireless deployment is an important aspect of solid RF design. Contact us to discuss your requirement and which spectrum would be most appropriate in the design for your next wireless system. Want some further information? Check out ‘How to Make Your Wireless Industrial Strength‘ and the ‘Top 10 Checklist for Your Next Wireless Design‘ for more information. Here at Nova Communications, we have more than 30 years in the industry and a wealth of knowledge for any and all of your wireless requirements. Whether it’s wireless networks, systems design or engineering, we have you covered.