3G, 4G and LTE Speeds while traveling outside of America

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. These are only the trivial things you could worry about, because ther are other rules that you’re expected to abide by, in a foreign country like Germany. using Duitsemilieusticker.nl for a quick second will apprise you on the various rules and documents that you’d have to produce on demand while sojourning there.

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:
700 Mhz
850 Mhz
1700 Mhz
1900 Mhz

3G / 4G / LTE network frequencies in Europe, Asia, Africa & the Middle East:

800 Mhz
900 Mhz
1800 Mhz
2100 Mhz
2600 Mhz

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:

2100 Mhz

4G / LTE:
1800 Mhz
2600 Mhz

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.

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178 comments on “3G, 4G and LTE Speeds while traveling outside of America

  1. ARINOLA AKINRIN on said:

    I just bought the new iPad air and taking it abroad (NIGERIA). I just want to find out with the 3g or 4g on it, I can use the internet/cellular on it abroad. Please let me know.

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      There is data coverage in Nigeria. Your best bet is to get a local SIM card with a data plan. If you roam with a UK cellular provider, you will pay immense data roaming fees. Pick up a local SIM card while you are there with a data plan. This is the most cost effective way to have data service while in Nigeria, other than free WiFi. Speaking of free WiFi, this is not a secure way of accessing the internet. There is a lot of online fraud in Nigeria so I would be extremely hesitant as to what your are accessing online (online banking, etc. if you use a free connection.

  2. jasin kamdekwaya on said:

    I intend to buy a samsung note 3 (4g lte) phone from AT &T here in the US which I intend to unlock for use when I travel to Nigeria. What are the compatibility issues if any with Nigeria frequencies/network coverage? Can I use the phone in Nigeria?

  3. Russell Oden on said:

    I am travel to Thailand and would like your advice as to which mobile hotspot to purchase that will provide connectivity for my Samsung Tablet and Samsung cell phones. The usage will be minimum as far as the data required.
    Your recommendation in this matter is greatly appreciated.
    Thank You

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      Any unlocked hotspot that has UMTS 2100 will work in Thailand for 4G. Whether or not the carriers there have reliable and extensive 4G is yet to be seen.

  4. Juliet on said:

    Sorry, still a little lost. Would it be fine to just purchase a used and “unlocked” iPhone 5s, take it to Germany, and insert an international SIM? Wondering what I need to know before I spend $300 on a used phone. Thanks!

    • Sebastian Harrison on said:

      It really depends on what you need. if you need data and like the iPhone, yes, buy the phone and make sure it is unlocked. Our German SIM card offers a better deal than local solutions as far as I know.

  5. Alan Rogger on said:

    Different countries have different speed. 4g gives you almost 50 Mbps of speed. You should always go for a local sim instead of a sim you are using. Call costs over countries are very much, I think I must say that you must not get 4g coverage everywhere so in that case, 3G is better.

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