The industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands are radio bands (portions of the radio spectrum) reserved internationally for the use of radio frequency (RF) energy for industrial, scientific and medical purposes other than telecommunications. Examples of applications in these bands include radio-frequency process heating, microwave ovens, and medical diathermy machines. The powerful emissions of these devices can create electromagnetic interference and disrupt radio communication using the same frequency, so these devices were limited to certain bands of frequencies. In general, communications equipment operating in these bands must tolerate any interference generated by ISM applications, and users have no regulatory protection from ISM device operation.
Despite the intent of the original allocations, and because there are multiple allocations, in recent years the fastest-growing uses of these bands have been for short-range, low power wireless communications systems. Cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, near field communication (NFC) devices, and wireless computer networks (WiFi) all use the ISM frequencies, although these low power emitters are not considered ISM.
The ISM bands are defined by the ITU Radio Regulations (article 5) in footnotes 5.138, 5.150, and 5.280 of the Radio Regulations. Individual countries' use of the bands designated in these sections may differ due to variations in national radio regulations. Because communication devices using the ISM bands must tolerate any interference from ISM equipment, unlicensed operations are typically permitted to use these bands, since unlicensed operation typically needs to be tolerant of interference from other devices anyway. The ISM bands share allocations with unlicensed and licensed operations; however, due to the high likelihood of harmful interference, licensed use of the bands is typically low. In the United States, uses of the ISM bands are governed by Part 18 of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, while Part 15 contains the rules for unlicensed communication devices, even those that share ISM frequencies. In Europe, the ETSI is responsible for regulating the use of Short Range Devices, some of which operate in ISM bands.
The allocation of radio frequencies is provided according to Article 5 of the ITU Radio Regulations (edition 2012).
In order to improve harmonisation in spectrum utilisation, the majority of service-allocations stipulated in this document were incorporated in national Tables of Frequency Allocations and Utilisations which is within the responsibility of the appropriate national administration. The allocation might be primary, secondary, exclusive, and shared.
- primary allocation: is indicated by writing in capital letters (see example below)
- secondary allocation: is indicated by small letters
- exclusive or shared utilization: is within the responsibility of administrations
- Example of frequency allocation
|Frequency range||Type||Center frequency||Availability||Licensed users|
|6.765 MHz||6.795 MHz||A||6.78 MHz||Subject to local acceptance||FIXED SERVICE & Mobile service|
|13.553 MHz||13.567 MHz||B||13.56 MHz||Worldwide||FIXED & Mobile services except Aeronautical mobile (R) service|
|26.957 MHz||27.283 MHz||B||27.12 MHz||Worldwide||FIXED & MOBILE SERVICE except Aeronautical mobile service, CB Radio|
|40.66 MHz||40.7 MHz||B||40.68 MHz||Worldwide||Fixed, Mobile services & Earth exploration-satellite service|
|433.05 MHz||434.79 MHz||A||433.92 MHz||only in Region 1, subject to local acceptance||AMATEUR SERVICE & RADIOLOCATION SERVICE, additional apply the provisions of footnote 5.280. For Australia see footnote AU.|
|902 MHz||928 MHz||B||915 MHz||Region 2 only (with some exceptions)||FIXED, Mobile except aeronautical mobile & Radiolocation service; in Region 2 additional Amateur service|
|2.4 GHz||2.5 GHz||B||2.45 GHz||Worldwide||FIXED, MOBILE, RADIOLOCATION, Amateur & Amateur-satellite service|
|5.725 GHz||5.875 GHz||B||5.8 GHz||Worldwide||FIXED-SATELLITE, RADIOLOCATION, MOBILE, Amateur & Amateur-satellite service|
|24 GHz||24.25 GHz||B||24.125 GHz||Worldwide||AMATEUR, AMATEUR-SATELLITE, RADIOLOCATION & Earth exploration-satellite service (active)|
|61 GHz||61.5 GHz||A||61.25 GHz||Subject to local acceptance||FIXED, INTER-SATELLITE, MOBILE & RADIOLOCATION SERVICE|
|122 GHz||123 GHz||A||122.5 GHz||Subject to local acceptance||EARTH EXPLORATION-SATELLITE (passive), FIXED, INTER-SATELLITE, MOBILE, SPACE RESEARCH (passive) & Amateur service|
|244 GHz||246 GHz||A||245 GHz||Subject to local acceptance||RADIOLOCATION, RADIO ASTRONOMY, Amateur & Amateur-satellite service|
Type A (footnote 5.138) = frequency bands are designated for ISM applications. The use of these frequency bands for ISM applications shall be subject to special authorization by the administration concerned, in agreement with other administrations whose radiocommunication services might be affected. In applying this provision, administrations shall have due regard to the latest relevant ITU-R Recommendations.
Type B (footnote 5.150) = frequency bands are also designated for ISM applications. Radiocommunication services operating within these bands must accept harmful interference which may be caused by these applications.
ITU RR, Footnote 5.280 = In Germany, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland, the band 433.05-434.79 MHz (center frequency 433.92 MHz) is designated for ISM applications. Radiocommunication services of these countries operating within this band must accept harmful interference which may be caused by these applications.
Footnote AU, Australia is part of ITU Region 3 the band 433.05 to 434.79 MHz is not a designated ISM band in Australia, however the operation of low powered devices in the radiofrequency band 433.05 to 434.79 MHz is supported through Radiocommunications class licence for low interference potential devices (LIPDs).
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The ISM bands were first established at the International Telecommunications Conference of the ITU in Atlantic City, 1947. The American delegation specifically proposed several bands, including the now commonplace 2.4 GHz band, to accommodate the then nascent process of microwave heating; however, FCC annual reports of that time suggest that much preparation was done ahead of these presentations.
From the proceedings: "The delegate of the United States, referring to his request that the frequency 2450 Mc/s be allocated for I.S.M., indicated that there was in existence in the United States, and working on this frequency a diathermy machine and an electronic cooker, and that the latter might eventually be installed in transatlantic ships and airplanes. There was therefore some point in attempting to reach world agreement on this subject."
Radio frequencies in the ISM bands have been used for communication purposes, although such devices may experience interference from non-communication sources. In the United States, as early as 1958 Class D Citizens Band, a Part 95 service, was allocated to frequencies that are also allocated to ISM. 
Many other countries later developed similar regulations, enabling use of this technology. The FCC action was proposed by Michael Marcus of the FCC staff in 1980 and the subsequent regulatory action took five more years. It was part of a broader proposal to allow civil use of spread spectrum technology and was opposed at the time by mainstream equipment manufacturers and many radio system operators.
The original ISM specifications envisioned that the bands would be used primarily for noncommunication purposes, such as heating. The bands are still widely used for these purposes. For many people, the most commonly encountered ISM device is the home microwave oven operating at 2.45 GHz which uses microwaves to cook food. Industrial heating is another big application area; such as induction heating, microwave heat treating, plastic softening, and plastic welding processes. In medical settings, shortwave and microwave diathermy machines use radio waves in the ISM bands to apply deep heating to the body for relaxation and healing. More recently hyperthermia therapy uses microwaves to heat tissue to kill cancer cells.
However, as detailed below, the increasing congestion of the radio spectrum, the increasing sophistication of microelectronics, and the attraction of unlicensed use, has in recent decades led to an explosion of uses of these bands for short range communication systems for wireless devices, which are now by far the largest uses of these bands. These are sometimes called "non ISM" uses since they do not fall under the originally envisioned "industrial", "scientific", and "medical" application areas. One of the largest applications has been wireless networking (WiFi). The IEEE 802.11 wireless networking protocols, the standards on which almost all wireless systems are based, use the ISM bands. Virtually all laptops, tablet computers, computer printers and cellphones now have 802.11 wireless modems using the 2.4 and 5.7 GHz ISM bands. Bluetooth is another networking technology using the 2.4 GHz band, which can be problematic given the probability of interference.  Near field communication devices such as proximity cards and contactless smart cards use the lower frequency 13 and 27 MHz ISM bands. Other short range devices using the ISM bands are: wireless microphones, baby monitors, garage door openers, wireless doorbells, keyless entry systems for vehicles, radio control channels for UAVs (drones), wireless surveillance systems, RFID systems for merchandise, and wild animal tracking systems.
Some electrodeless lamp designs are ISM devices, which use RF emissions to excite fluorescent tubes. Sulfur lamps are commercially available plasma lamps, which use a 2.45 GHz magnetron to heat sulfur into a brightly glowing plasma.
Long-distance wireless power systems have been proposed and experimented with which would use high-power transmitters and rectennas, in lieu of overhead transmission lines and underground cables, to send power to remote locations. NASA has studied using microwave power transmission on 2.45 GHz to send energy collected by solar power satellites back to the ground.
In recent years ISM bands have also been shared with (non-ISM) license-free error-tolerant communications applications such as wireless sensor networks in the 915 MHz and 2.450 GHz bands, as well as wireless LANs and cordless phones in the 915 MHz, 2.450 GHz, and 5.800 GHz bands. Because unlicensed devices are required to be tolerant of ISM emissions in these bands, unlicensed low power users are generally able to operate in these bands without causing problems for ISM users. ISM equipment does not necessarily include a radio receiver in the ISM band (e.g. a microwave oven does not have a receiver).
In the United States, according to 47 CFR Part 15.5, low power communication devices must accept interference from licensed users of that frequency band, and the Part 15 device must not cause interference to licensed users. Note that the 915 MHz band should not be used in countries outside Region 2, except those that specifically allow it, such as Australia and Israel, especially those that use the GSM-900 band for cellphones. The ISM bands are also widely used for Radio-frequency identification (RFID) applications with the most commonly used band being the 13.56 MHz band used by systems compliant with ISO/IEC 14443 including those used by biometric passports and contactless smart cards.
In Europe, the use of the ISM band is covered by Short Range Device regulations issued by European Commission, based on technical recommendations by CEPT and standards by ETSI. In most of Europe, LPD433 band is allowed for license-free voice communication in addition to PMR446.
Wireless LAN devices use wavebands as follows:
- Bluetooth 2450 MHz band falls under WPAN
- HIPERLAN 5800 MHz band
- IEEE 802.11/Wi-Fi 2450 MHz and 5800 MHz bands
Wireless LANs and cordless phones can also use bands other than those shared with ISM, but such uses require approval on a country by country basis. DECT phones use allocated spectrum outside the ISM bands that differs in Europe and North America. Ultra-wideband LANs require more spectrum than the ISM bands can provide, so the relevant standards such as IEEE 802.15.4a are designed to make use of spectrum outside the ISM bands. Despite the fact that these additional bands are outside the official ITU-R ISM bands, because they are used for the same types of low power personal communications, they are sometimes incorrectly referred to as ISM bands as well.
Also note that several brands of radio control equipment use the 2.4 GHz band range for low power remote control of toys, from gas powered cars to miniature aircraft.
Worldwide Digital Cordless Telecommunications or WDCT is a technology that uses the 2.4 GHz radio spectrum.
Google's Project Loon uses ISM bands (specifically 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands) for balloon-to-balloon and balloon-to-ground communications.
- "ARTICLE 1 - Terms and Definitions". life.itu.ch. International Telecommunication Union. 19 October 2009. 1.15.
industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) applications (of radio frequency energy): Operation of equipment or appliances designed to generate and use locally radio frequency energy for industrial, scientific, medical, domestic or similar purposes, excluding applications in the field of telecommunications.
- ITU Radio Regulations, CHAPTER II – Frequencies, ARTICLE 5 Frequency allocations, Section IV – Table of Frequency Allocations
- ACMA (April 1999). "Spectrum at 434 MHz for low powered devices". Australian Communications and Media Authority. Australian Communications and Media Authority. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
- "Documents of the International Radio Conference (Atlantic City, 1947) - Doc. No. 1-100" (PDF). p. 464.
- Thirteenth Annual Report of the FCC, June 30, 1947 (PDF) (Report). pp. 8, 50–51.
- "Authorization of Spread Spectrum Systems Under Parts 15 and 90 of the FCC Rules and Regulations". Federal Communications Commission. June 18, 1985. Archived from the original (TXT) on March 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
- "The Genesis of Unlicensed Wireless Policy". George Mason University. April 4, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-20.
- Eizikowitz, Grant (2018-03-05). "Why does Bluetooth still suck?". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-07-15.
- Chakrabarti, P. (2009). International Conference on Emerging Trends in Electronic and Photonic Devices and Systems (ELECTRO-2009), December 22-24, 2009. Macmillan Publishers India. ISBN 9780230328518.
- Cordless phone frequencies
- ITU page on definitions of ISM bands
- ITU page on Radio Regulations
- European Radiocommunications Office frequency information system
- In the US, CFR Title 47 Part 18 describes the regulation of the ISM bands.  contains some of the regulations for wireless LAN devices operating in three of the low power communication, Part 15, bands.