Glossary Definition for: Bandwidth

All of us mobile internet junkies know that we crave bandwidth, but how many of us actually know what the technical definition of “bandwidth” is?

Any wireless broadcast actually extends across a range of frequencies – say, for example, the old analog TV channel 2, which spanned 54–60MHz.

The bandwidth is the size of that channel – in the case of analog TV in the USA, it was always 6MHz per channel. FM radio, in contrast, is 200kHz and AM radio 10kHz.

The larger the bandwidth allotted to a channel, the more information that the channel can carry. But with larger bandwidth channels set aside, there can be fewer of them without overlapping.

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LTE supports a range of channel sizes – with bandwidths ranging from 1.4MHz to 20MHz wide.

In general, an LTE tower can support 200 active full-speed users per 5MHz of spectrum allocated. Once those 200 slots are filled, network speeds start to fall for everyone. This is why unlimited data is so hard to offer on cellular networks.

LTE-Advanced will support bandwidths up to 100MHz, accomplished by combing multiple separate channels together. This will allow for many more simultaneous users and much faster peak speeds.

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Prime ranges of frequencies suitable for cellular data use are in very limited supply, and the major carriers have paid billions to buy up as much bandwidth as they can. Very few carriers own enough spectrum to offer 20MHz LTE channels in many places, but this is changing. 5MHz or less is actually much more common.

What Verizon calls XLTE is an example of a 20MHz LTE network.

This variation in available bandwidth is one of the reasons why not all LTE networks are created equal.

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