A lot of people call in to our support hotline wondering why they’re not getting 3G quality service when they travel. Those of you who are familiar with GSM technology know that there are 4 standard frequency bands in the 2G spectrum: 850/1900 in North and South America, and 900/1800 in most of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. In the past, it was difficult for us to find a cheap ‘quad-band’ model phone, and we had been purchasing ‘tri-band’ phones that only offer the 900/1800 Europe frequency, and the 1900 frequency for use in North America.
How did that affect our users? Well, for the small customer base that actually wanted to use their phone domestically, it meant they had trouble getting coverage even in suburbs that advertised coverage; the 850 frequency has a much farther-reaching signal than the 1900 frequency, and 850 towers are often used to extend signal ranges in rural suburbs.
What’s the significance?
Getting 3G and even 4G/LTE signal on your phone poses a whole new set of frequency problems. Here’s a run comparison of what’s available in the current 3G and 4G markets:
3G / 4G / LTE network frequencies in North and South America:
3G / 4G / LTE network frequencies in Europe, Asia, Africa & the Middle East:
With 4G & LTE framework still relatively new to the international market, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a cell phone that gets you 4G / LTE speed in North America as well as Europe.
As an example, lets look at the available 3G networks, as well as the new 4G LTE framework that is currently being introduced to Italy’s Telecom Italia Mobile network:
4G / LTE:
So if I’m traveling to Italy with an iPhone 5, version A1428. I have 3G 850/900/1900/2100 MHz frequency capabilities, and 4G LTE 700/1700/2100. I have no chance of connecting via 4G LTE, and my connectivity on 3G is limited to the 2100 Mhz frequency, which means I will only be able to connect to 3G in places where the 3G 2100 frequency is available.
To find out if 3G 2100 is available in my area, I can check Telecom Italia Mobile’s coverage out using the 3G coverage map at Mobile World Live: http://maps.mobileworldlive.com/network.php?cid=21&cname=Italy
So, what’s the solution?
Most carriers will not offer phones with international 3G and 4G LTE network frequencies, although Apple will probably introduce 4G 2600 to its next iteration of the iPhone. You can bet that Samsung will probably do the same. Until then, you can always take a wireless hotspot that offers multiple 3G and possibly 4G connectivity. Cellular Abroad is planning to bring 4G LTE hotspots for Europe to the U.S. soon.
Richard Jefferis is the Project Manager at Cellular Abroad, Inc. and has been working with international cellular phone & roaming network technology since 2005.