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How Race to 5G in U.S. Hit Speed Bump Called C-Band

The future's up there.

The future's up there.

Photographer: Wolfram Schroll/Bloomberg
Updated on

From ovens to refrigerators, automobiles to surgeon’s tools, more and more items are connected wirelessly to the internet. As use of such devices soars, so does the demand for airwaves to carry all that data. The need for more space -- more spectrum -- to carry mobile signals is causing friction in a once-placid policy arena. One fight that erupted in the closing days of 2021 pitted mobile phones against the U.S. aviation sector.

The term refers to the invisible electromagnetic waves that carry information through the atmosphere to our smartphones -- and to TVs, radios, iPads, ships at sea, aircraft, garage-door openers and any other gadgets that send or take in signals wirelessly. The so-called electromagnetic spectrum encompasses the full range of airwaves, from tiny, high-frequency waves like those used in radiation therapy to longer, low-frequency waves such as those that deliver radio programming. High-frequency waves can carry a lot of information but don’t go far and can be stopped by walls or even rain. Low-frequency waves go far and penetrate obstacles but don’t carry a lot of information. Of particular value in this wireless age are mid-band airwaves that can carry ample data for significant distances. One of those is the C-band.