Cellular Frequency Bands
Frequencies used by cellular phones and cell signal boosters
This article explains, in simple terms, which cellular frequencies are being used for 4G and low-band 5G by cellular carriers and devices in the United States, Canada, and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Bands of Cellular Frequency
The cellular spectrum is divided up into different bands of cell phone frequencies. National governments control the allocation of these bands and how they are used. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses specific bands to cellular carriers and the carriers have exclusive use of those bands in specific regions of the country.
Each cellular band is made up of multiple channels (or blocks). Each cellular channel is divided into an uplink portion that transmits from cell phones to the tower and a downlink portion that transmits from the cell tower to phones. Separating uplink and downlink within a channel allows for simultaneous (and faster) two-way voice and data transmissions.
In the Beginning: 2G/3G Cellular and PCS
In the early days of cellular phones, 850 MHz band 5 was used for voice transmissions. There are only two channels in the 850 MHz band: A and B.
U = uplink; D = downlink.
As cell phone usage increased, more bandwidth was needed. 1900 MHz band 2 was licensed to the carriers and named the Personal Communications Service (PCS). Band 2 has six channels, A through F. (Extended PCS band 25 was added later to overlap band 2 with an additional G channel.)
PCS was later expanded to include band 25 block G channels.
The Rise of 4G Cellular Data: AWS and 700 MHz
The introduction of the smartphone in 2008 changed the cellular landscape: Cellular phones changed from low-bandwidth voice and text devices to high-bandwidth users of internet data. Web browsing, email, social media, and streaming audio and video took over the mobile space. User loads on cell towers soared. Smartphones have since been joined by cellular-enabled tablets, laptops, smart watches, and routers. As the chartshows, the number of cellular devices per person increased exponentially between 2010 and 2020. This fourth generation (4G) of wireless cellular technology needed much more bandwidth.
In 2006, 1700/2100 MHz band 4, named Advanced Wireless Services (AWS), debuted to provide high-speed cellular data in the same area of frequency served by PCS. (Extended AWS band 66 was added later to overlap band 4 with additional G, H, I, and J channels.)
AWS’s uplink channels use the 1700 MHz spectrum, while its downlink channels reside in the 2100 MHz range.
Four years later, cellular service opened up in the lower 700 MHz bands 12 and 17 and upper 700 MHz band 13. These longer-range frequencies in the Seven-hundred MHz (SMH) range provide cellular coverage in rural and remote areas as part of 4G’s all-digital Long Term Evolution (LTE) plan.
The Future Is Now: 5G Networks
Carriers in the U.S. and Canada are now actively deploying 5G NR cellular networks. Always-connected devices and appliances—the Internet of Things (IoT)—are flooding the market, and self-driving vehicles will demand instantaneous data for guidance and control. These new advances will require faster cellular data in more locations.
Cellular carriers have begun expanding their low-band networks into 600 MHz band 71 and 2300 MHz band 30. 4G frequencies are being converted into 5G, and higher frequencies—3.5 GHz CBRS, 3.7 GHz C band, all the way up to 29–39 GHz mmWave bands—will provide cellular connectivity to more devices with higher bandwidth requirements.
How to get better cell signal
Cell signal boosters provide cellular reception where today’s networks can’t reach: inside buildings made from concrete, metal, and low-e glass; rural and remote locations; low-lying areas and other places where signal is blocked by natural and man-made obstacles.
Cellular Frequencies by Carrier
U.S. carriers offer cellular service on the following bands within the United States. Not all bands are available in all areas; some bands—especially high-frequency C band and mmWave bands—have limited deployment in urban areas or certain test markets and can only be used by specific phones. Carriers may also have limited areas of deployment for LTE bands that are not reflected in the table below.
Bands that are used for 5G service are preceded by the letter n; for example, 5G band 5 is band n5.
Today’s cellular signal boosters cover many common low-band frequencies (600–2200 MHz) used for 4G and 5G networks. With cellular technology rapidly evolving and expanding, manufacturers are seeking blanket approval from the FCC to cover additional frequencies using consumer (Part 20) cell signal boosters.
Note: The Sprint network was shut down on . 4G Sprint phones with T-Mobile SIM cards now operate on T-Mobile’s network.
¹ The FCC has not yet issued blanket approval for boosters to amplify band 71. The WilsonPro 710i, Nextivity’s CEL-FI QUATRA 4000i, and the HiBoost Industrial 100K 5G amplify band 71; these systems require carrier approval before being commissioned.
² Band 14 is reserved for first responder emergency services. The CEL-FI GO RED amplifies this band.
³ The FCC has not yet issued blanket approval for boosters to amplify band 66, but since band 4 is a subset of band 66, most boosters amplify large portions of band 66.
⁴ The FCC has not yet issued blanket approval for boosters to amplify band n77. The WilsonPro Enterprise 1337R will amplify C band in the 3.7 to 3.8 GHz range; this system requires carrier approval before being commissioned.