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The whole purpose of GSM phones is to work as broadly as possible, in over 200 countries worldwide.

GSM service can now be found on four different frequency bands.  Unfortunately, most GSM phones only support two or three frequency bands.

 
 
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Dual, Tri, or Quad Band GSM Phone?

Quad band GSM phones - like this lovely Motorola V600 - are becoming more common and less expensive.

Increasingly, a quad band phone should be your first choice of phone.

Part 5 of an 8 part series - click for Parts One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight

 

 

Two frequency bands are used by GSM services in the US.  Two different frequency bands are used by GSM services elsewhere in the world.

Ideally, you'd want a phone that can work on all four bands - commonly called a quad-band phone.  But these are still rare and expensive.

If choosing a tri-band phone as a second best choice, be careful which three bands your phone has.  Some bands are more useful than others, depending on where you travel.

What is a frequency band?

Cell phones use radio waves to transmit your conversations.  These radio waves can be at different frequencies, just the same as regular radio stations are at different frequencies.

For example, if you're listening to FM radio stations, they are in the FM radio band (of course!) which is between 88-108 MHz.  If you're listening to AM radio stations, they are in the AM radio band, between 0.55 and 1.6 MHz.

Here's an interesting table of the different frequencies used by different types of radio services.

GSM cell phones use frequencies within four different frequency bands :

  • 850 MHz   (824.2 - 848.8 MHz Tx;  869.2 - 893.8 MHz Rx)

  • 900 MHz   (880-2 - 914.8 MHz Tx;  925.2 - 959.8 MHz Rx)

  • 1800 MHz  (1710.2 - 1784.8 MHz Tx; 1805.2 - 1879.8 MHz Rx)

  • 1900 MHz  (1850.2 - 1909.8 MHz Tx; 1930.2 - 1989.8 MHz Rx)

Although 850 and 900, and 1800 and 1900 are very close together, a phone that works in one frequency band unfortunately can not also work in the frequency band next to it unless added as a specific extra frequency band.  For comparison, when you have your FM radio tuned to a radio station at 98.1 MHz, there's no way you'll hear what is happening on another radio station at 98.3 MHz unless you retune your radio.

Which frequencies are used in the US?

Originally, the US used only 1900 MHz for its GSM cell phone service.  In the last year or so, there has been a growing amount of GSM service on the 850 MHz band.  This type of service will usually be seen in rural areas, because the 850 MHz band has better range than the 1900 MHz band.  It can sometimes also found in city areas, particularly if the cell phone company has spare frequencies unused in the 850 MHz band, but no remaining frequencies to use in the 1900 MHz band.

Most of the 850 MHz service belongs to AT&T, and some to Cingular (these two companies are in the process of merging).  Although T-Mobile does not (as of July 04) have any of its own 850 MHz service, because it has roaming agreements with both AT&T and Cingular, even a T-mobile user might sometimes find themselves in an area where the only signal available is on 850 MHz.

What about 800 MHz?  Is this a fifth band?

Some people refer to the 850 MHz band as being the 800 MHz band.  This is incorrect.  The actual frequencies in the band are closer to 850 MHz and the standardized naming convention as promulgated by the GSM Association is to refer to this band as '850 MHz'.

If you see someone referring to a phone with 800 MHz service, they probably are simply mistaken and mean to refer to the 850 MHz band.

Do you need both frequencies in the US?

This really depends on the areas in which you use your cell phone.  If you're in a major metropolitan area, you probably won't need the 850 MHz band, but if you travel to secondary areas regularly, you will find the extra coverage of the 850 MHz band to be valuable.

Looking into the future, it is probable we'll see increased use of 850 MHz to expand GSM's overall coverage into more of the country.

And then, looking further into the future, it is possible we'll see 1900 MHz coverage duplicating the 850 MHz coverage.

Bottom line :  If you travel out of the main cities, you'll definitely benefit from a phone that supports both 850 MHz and 1900 MHz.

Which frequencies are used internationally?

GSM was originally developed in Europe, and only came to the US recently.

Initially, all countries with GSM service used the 900 MHz band.  In the past few years, service providers have increasingly been adding 1800 MHz coverage, due to congestion in the 900 MHz band.

When the US started to use GSM, a few other countries with very close links to the US chose to copy the US and use the same frequencies that the US used - first 1900 MHz, and in a few cases, 850 MHz also.

Almost without exception, all international countries that use the non-US international frequency bands have 900 MHz service, and many have some 1800 MHz service as well.

All international countries that have the US frequency bands have 1900 MHz service.  A very few might also have some 850 MHz service.

Which frequencies do you need when traveling internationally?

That depends on the countries you plan to visit.

Refer to the table below to get a feeling for which countries use which frequency bands.  For a more expanded set of information, complete with network coverage maps, refer to the official GSM Association's website.

As the table suggests, 900 MHz is the most common band used internationally.  1800 MHz will give you expanded coverage in countries that also have 900 MHz.  And some countries only have 1900 MHz rather than 900 or 1800 MHz.

Note that countries with both 900 and 1800 MHz service generally provide better coverage in the 900 MHz band than in the 1800 MHz band.

Which bands should you get on your phone?

If used only in the US

If you intend to use your phone only in the US, then get a dual band phone that has both 850 MHz and 1900 MHz.

A single band phone with only 1900 MHz will give almost as good coverage.

If used only internationally

If you intend to use your phone only internationally, then decide if you'll be using the phone in countries that use the international frequencies, or in countries that use the US frequencies, or in both.

If you only need to use the phone in countries with international frequencies, get a dual band 900/1800 MHz phone.  A single band phone with only 900 MHz will give reasonably good coverage, but most international phones these days have both bands.

If you need to use the phone in countries that also have the US 1900 MHz frequency, get a tri-band phone with 900/1800/1900 MHz.

If used in both the US and internationally

Two frequencies are 'must have' frequencies - 900 and 1900 MHz.  The other two bands are nice to also have, with 1800 MHz typically opening up more of foreign countries than 850 MHz would open up in the US.

Ideally the best solution is to get a quad-band phone with all four bands.

So why not simply buy a quad band phone?

When we first wrote this in July 04 we said 'there are only a very few quad-band phones for sale at present, and they tend to be expensive'.  Happily, nine months later, quad band phones have become a lot more common and may even be close to free when you're signing up for new service.

We find the cheapest deals for new phone service are usually those offered at Amazon - see their ad on the left hand side (they have many more models on their site, too).  Bizarrely, the prices shown on the Amazon ad are often much higher than the actual prices after special offers on their site - for example, today (March 05) there is a lovely Motorola V551 showing for $74.99, but clicking over to their site shows that after rebates, you actually get the phone for free and $75.10 cash back!

We are aware of the following model quad band phones (if you know of other quad band phones, please let us know so we can update the list)

Geo

    GC688

HP

    i6315

Motorola

    A780

    V3 Razr (but not V300)

    V180 (note - some people report that Cingular
      disables the 1800MHz band, but in theory
      these phones should have four bands)

    V220

    V330

    V400

    V500 / V501 / V505 / V525 / V551 / V555

    V600 / V620

NEC

    515 / 525

Palm

    Treo 600 / 650

Sharp

    GX32

Xda

    IIs

 

WARNING :  T-mobile disabled the 850 MHz band in some quad band phones it sells/has sold.  As of Sep 05 it seems that most quad band phones they sell now have all four bands enabled, but if you're buying an older T-mobile quad band phone, check to ensure it supports all four bands.

Caution - Different definitions of 'Tri-band Phone'

All tri-band phones obviously (?) support three different frequency bands.  But they may differ in their choice of which three of the four bands they support.

The two common variations are :

900/1800/1900 - Excellent internationally and very good in the US

850/1800/1900 - Excellent in the US but not very good internationally

A look ahead - five and six band phones?

Phones that support new high speed data services - so called '3G' (as in 'third generation') phones will generally have the high speed data service on yet another band; typically 2100 MHz.

The market for high speed data services is currently still evolving, with several different technologies, each incompatible with each other, being offered by different service providers.  We'll comment more on 3G issues when things stabilize into a clearer picture.

In October 2005, discussions became public for developing a fifth voice frequency, in the 450 MHz band.  This is being proposed for less developed countries - the main benefit of 450 MHz is can offer longer range and so, developing a low density coverage network would require fewer towers and could be done for less cost.

On the other hand, a 450 MHz handset probably would require a lengthier aerial, because the lower frequency has a longer wavelength - the aerial would need to be twice the length of a 900 MHz aerial and four times the length of an 1800 MHz aerial to provide similar effectiveness.

As of the time of writing, Nokia and Sony Ericsson have both indicated they'll make handsets to support this new frequency band, but there are not yet any known plans for service providers anywhere in the world to start developing 450 MHz networks.  When (if) they do appear, they are likely to be in third world countries.

Summary

There is an easy answer to the question of 'Which bands should my GSM cell phone support?'.  The answer is 'All four'.

But due to limited availability and high cost, many people will prefer to choose a tri-band phone.  If so, choose the three bands that best suit you based on whether you'll primarily be using the phone in the US or internationally.

Frequency Bands by Country

(Looking for a country not on this list?  Ask, and we'll add it.)

Country

  900

1800

1900

  850

Afghanistan

 

 

 

 

Albania

 

 

 

 

Algeria

 

 

 

 

Angola

 

 

 

 

Anguilla

 

 

 

 

Antigua & Barbuda

 

 

 

 

Argentina

 

 

 

 

Armenia

 

 

 

 

Aruba

 

 

 

 

Australia

 

 

 

 

Azerbaijan

 

 

 

 

Austria

 

 

 

 

Bahamas

 

 

 

 

Bahrain

 

 

 

 

Bangladesh

 

 

 

 

Barbados

 

 

 

 

Belarus

 

 

 

 

Belgium

 

 

 

 

Belize

 

 

 

 

Benin

 

 

 

 

Bermuda

 

 

 

 

Bolivia

 

 

 

 

Bosnia & Herzegovina

 

 

 

 

Botswana

 

 

 

 

Brazil

 

 

 

 

British Virgin Islands

 

 

 

 

Bulgaria

 

 

 

 

Burma/Myanmar - 900 planned

 

 

 

 

Cambodia

 

 

 

 

Cameroon

 

 

 

 

Canada

 

 

 

 

Cayman Islands

 

 

 

 

Chad

 

 

 

 

Chile

 

 

 

 

China

 

 

 

 

Colombia

 

 

 

 

Congo

 

 

 

 

Congo, Democratic Rep of

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica

 

 

 

 

Cte d'Ivoire

 

 

 

 

Croatia

 

 

 

 

Cuba

 

 

 

 

Cyprus

 

 

 

 

Czech Republic

 

 

 

 

Denmark

 

 

 

 

Dominica

 

 

 

 

Dominican Republic

 

 

 

 

Ecuador

 

 

 

 

Egypt

 

 

 

 

El Salvador

 

 

 

 

Eritrea

 

 

 

 

Estonia

 

 

 

 

Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

Fiji

 

 

 

 

Finland

 

 

 

 

France

 

 

 

 

French Polynesia

 

 

 

 

French West Indies (incl St Barts)

 

 

 

 

Georgia

 

 

 

 

Germany

 

 

 

 

Ghana

 

 

 

 

Greece

 

 

 

 

Greenland

 

 

 

 

Grenada

 

 

 

 

Guam

 

 

 

 

Guatemala

 

 

 

 

Guinea

 

 

 

 

Haiti

 

 

 

 

Honduras

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong

 

 

 

 

Hungary

 

 

 

 

Iceland

 

 

 

 

India

 

 

 

 

Indonesia

 

 

 

 

Iran

 

 

 

 

Iraq

 

 

 

 

Ireland

 

 

 

 

Israel

 

 

 

 

Italy

 

 

 

 

Jamaica

 

 

 

 

Japan

No GSM service in Japan

Jordan

 

 

 

 

Kazakhstan

 

 

 

 

Kenya

 

 

 

 

Korea (South) - CDMA not GSM

No GSM service in South Korea

Kosovo

 

 

 

 

Kuwait

 

 

 

 

Kyrgyzstan

 

 

 

 

Laos

 

 

 

 

Latvia

 

 

 

 

Lebanon

 

 

 

 

Liberia

 

 

 

 

Libya

 

 

 

 

Liechtenstein

 

 

 

 

Lithuania

 

 

 

 

Luxemburg

 

 

 

 

Macedonia (former Yugoslav rep)

 

 

 

 

Madagascar

 

 

 

 

Malawi

 

 

 

 

Malaysia

 

 

 

 

Maldives

 

 

 

 

Mali

 

 

 

 

Malta

 

 

 

 

Mauritius

 

 

 

 

Mexico

 

 

 

 

Moldova

 

 

 

 

Monaco

 

 

 

 

Mongolia

 

 

 

 

Morocco

 

 

 

 

Mozambique

 

 

 

 

Myanmar - 900 planned

 

 

 

 

Namibia

 

 

 

 

Nepal

 

 

 

 

Netherlands

 

 

 

 

Netherland Antilles

 

 

 

 

New Zealand

 

 

 

 

Nicaragua

 

 

 

 

Nigeria

 

 

 

 

Norway

 

 

 

 

Oman

 

 

 

 

Pakistan

 

 

 

 

Panama

 

 

 

 

Papua New Guinea

 

 

 

 

Paraguay

 

 

 

 

Peru

 

 

 

 

Philippines

 

 

 

 

Poland

 

 

 

 

Portugal

 

 

 

 

Qatar

 

 

 

 

Romania

 

 

 

 

Russia

 

 

 

 

Rwanda

 

 

 

 

Samoa - no service

 

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia

 

 

 

 

Senegal

 

 

 

 

Serbia/Montenegro

 

 

 

 

Seychelles

 

 

 

 

Sierra Leone

 

 

 

 

Singapore

 

 

 

 

Slovakia

 

 

 

 

Slovenia

 

 

 

 

South Africa

 

 

 

 

Spain

 

 

 

 

Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

St Lucia

 

 

 

 

St Kitts & Nevis

 

 

 

 

St Vincent / Grenadines

 

 

 

 

Sudan

 

 

 

 

Sweden

 

 

 

 

Switzerland

 

 

 

 

Syria

 

 

 

 

Taiwan

 

 

 

 

Tajikistan

 

 

 

 

Tanzania

 

 

 

 

Thailand

 

 

 

 

Togo

 

 

 

 

Tonga

 

 

 

 

Trinidad & Tobago

 

 

 

 

Tunisia

 

 

 

 

Turkey

 

 

 

 

Turkmenistan

 

 

 

 

Turks & Caicos

 

 

 

 

Uganda

 

 

 

 

Ukraine

 

 

 

 

United Arab Emirates

 

 

 

 

United Kingdom

 

 

 

 

U S A

 

 

 

 

Uruguay

 

 

 

 

Uzbekistan

 

 

 

 

Venezuela

 

 

 

 

Vietnam

 

 

 

 

Yemen

 

 

 

 

Zambia

 

 

 

 

Zimbabwe

 

 

 

 

Country

 900

1800

1900

 850


Note - this table contains data believed to be accurate and current as of Oct, 2007.  You should verify any data that is essential to your choice of phone, rather than relying solely on this data.

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Originally published 16 Jul 2004, last update 26 Aug 2018

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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