INTERNET OF THINGS: FCC Should Track Growth to Ensure Sufficient Spectrum Remains Available

GAO-18-71, November 16, 2017

Devices, appliances, and vehicles are increasingly designed to capture data and personal information, send it to the Internet, to improve efficiency or assist with decision making. This is known as the "Internet of Things." IoT devices communicate across networks, often relying on wireless technologies that use radio frequency spectrum. The Federal Communications Commission allocates spectrum for various consumer and commercial purposes, assigns spectrum licenses, and makes unlicensed spectrum available for public use.

This graphic shows how some IoT devices use radio frequency spectrum, and how those uses fit on the spectrum with other wireless devices and allocations. IoT devices use many areas of the spectrum. Select the cloud icon to show where IoT devices may use spectrum, and use the switches below to highlight categories of spectrum use. Hover on a band (group of frequencies) to see examples of devices used in that band.

Examples of Radio Frequency Spectrum's Commercial Uses

Show IoT
10 GHz 100 kHz 1 MHz 100 MHz 1 GHz low frequency 100 GHz high frequency Radio Spectrum Permeable zone Frequencies in this range are considered more valuable because they can penetrate objects, such as buildings. Semi-permeable zone Difficult for signals to penetrate buildings and other objects. Line-of-sight zone Signals in this zone could be blocked by trees and other objects.
Licensed broadcast and satellite television and radio.
Unlicensed use:
Wireless devices, some of which have IoT applications. Must not cause harmful interference to other devices operating in spectrum.
Cellular and data services:
Voice and data services used by licensed cellular providers, some of which have IoT applications.
Select licensed uses:
Wireless devices, some of which have IoT applications.
New and future applications:
Part of a new spectrum sharing arrangement and spectrum proposed for future reallocation.

Source: GAO analysis of FCC data. | GAO-18-71

Note: The radio frequency spectrum lies between the frequency limits of 3 kHz and 300 GHz. For illustrative purposes, we are only showing a portion of the full radio frequency spectrum.

This graphic is for illustration purposes and is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all allocations and uses.