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Wireless 101

Wireless 101


Cellphones work by using radio waves, called spectrum, to send and receive calls, text messages, emails, videos, and more. Data is sent to a nearby tower or small cell, which then redirects it to the right carrier, location, and device.

The next generation of wireless—5G—promises to move data faster than ever before, enabling innovations limited only by our imagination.

Your wireless device can send video, voice, text and email over thousands of miles in a fraction of a second.

Cells: Wireless networks operate on grids that divide cities or regions into smaller sections, which use a set of radio frequencies to provide service in specific areas.

Antennas: Wireless antennas link wireless users to the internet, the local telephone network, or another wireless network. Traditional wireless cell (or macro) towers are typically tall structures (sometime up to 150 to 200 feet tall), often located along highways. Today, there are roughly 150,000 towers across the country that transmit your data, , texts, or phone calls.

Wireless providers are increasingly deploying smaller antennas—called small cells—to power 4G and 5G networks. Small cells are approximately the size of a backpack and installed on utility poles, streetlights, and the sides of buildings.

Small cells can transmit from a few feet to a little under a mile and are an important tool that providers are using to improve network performance. To handle growing mobile data demands, hundreds of thousands of small cells will need to be installed in the next few years.

Spectrum: Data travels over spectrum, which allows your wireless device to send and receive information instantly. The more advanced functionality of modern phones, such as streaming music and videos, and downloading apps, in combination with the high demand for wireless services, requires larger amounts of spectrum to transport information than what’s needed for voice calls alone.

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