Mobile Phone UMTS Frequency Bands

So the few weeks/months back I saw that the Samsung Galaxy Tab was going for AU$299 and there were a few things I wanted to know about the device before I got it:

  • Could they ship it overseas?
  • Was it locked? if so what is the unlocking fee
  • Will it work here in Brunei?

Sadly in the process of finding my answers to these 2 simple questions, it sadly went out of stock but I did learn some important information with regards to mobile phone frequency bands and also of the ‘quality’ of phones on the market. This is something I’ve never really took into account when buying a phone because I bought phones and they worked, but since I was buying this from overseas I had to make sure. Stumbled upon this comment stating that there are typically to different UMTS/HSDPA frequency band chips: 850/1900/2100 for the US market and 900/1900/2100 for everyone else.

So turn research mode on to see I found out from the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page that Brunei uses UMTS 2100 for 3G on both carriers b-mobile and DSTCom (DSTCom also supports GSM 900). Data-wise, UMTS is basically 3G or mobile broadband while GSM is the slower GPRS/EDGE mobile Internet. Now just because a carrier has multiple frequencies that it broadcasts on, it doesn’t mean that it will always work with any device as the tower may communicate at a frequency the device does not support e.g. device supports 900/2100, carrier supports 850/2100 but the tower in range communicates on 850MHz. From Wikipedia “The 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands provide greater coverage compared to equivalent 1700/1900/2100 MHz networks, and are best suited to regional areas where greater distances separate subscriber and base station” so I would think telcos would most likely use 850MHz towers to save costs and it seems that is the case with Telstra’s Next G Network for the exact same reason (Telstra’s Mobile Networks)

I’ve compiled some data on phones and tablets from different companies that are currently on the market. I only noted UMTS support as GSM is generally all the same. The results are as follows (full listing of data used at the end of this post).

Results

  1. Nokia: penta-band supported on their high end devices. cheaper phones support tri-band
  2. Apple / Samsung: quad-band support on their latest/higher end devices, previous generation / other devices : tri-band
  3. Sony Ericsson: all models have quad and dual-band models, but not sure which is more common
  4. Motorola: tri-band supported but Xoom only has single-band (possible error?)
  5. Huawei & LG: tri-band support for higher end, the rest dual-band
  6. HTC: mostly dual band with only the Sensation 4G and Flyer having tri-band

Based on the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page I did a quick search (using the Find tool in Chrome) to find the number of entries that each UMTS band has

  • UMTS 850: 56 entries
  • UMTS 900: 26 entries
  • UMTS 1700: 10 entries
  • UMTS 1900: 35 entries
  • UMTS 2100: 344 entries

So it seems logical that most quad band phones leave out 1700 as it has the least entries and that most (if not all) phones support 2100. I think it’s rather sad that HTC has the worst band support considering they make a lot of phones and they are the very mainstream. At the end of the day the multiple band support is only important for frequent travelers and if you want faster 3G speeds. If your device doesn’t support the appropriate UMTS band, as long as it supports GSM band of the carrier you will still get reception to text and make calls but you will be hindered by slower mobile Internet via GPRS / EDGE. So for the quest for faster data speeds and usability anywhere and everywhere do take note of this when you choose your next phone.

======================
Data Compiled and Used
======================
Full Listing of devices with information taken from GSM Arena. Link to the compiled data (Google Docs). This only shows UMTS / HSDPA support as GSM support is similar.

Apple

Samsung

HTC

Sony Ericsson

Huawei

LG

Motorola

Nokia

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10 thoughts on “Mobile Phone UMTS Frequency Bands

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  4. Bought a Motorola Defy PLUS from the UK. Brand New. Phone has never been locked to any carrier or sim. Motorolas Fact Sheet: http://mediacenter.motorola.com/Fact-Sheets/Motorola-DEFY-Fact-Sheet-3792.aspx
    says it is a dual bandDual-band WCDMA 850/1900,850/2100, 900/2100
    Quadband GSM 850/900/1800/1900,
    HSDPA 7.2 Mbps, HSUPA 2Mbps,
    EDGE Class 12, GPRS Class 12
    The one I bought from the UK says on the box WCDMA 900/2100 GSM 850/900/1800/1900
    When I put my AT&T USA sim in I can not get a 3G signal.
    In the settings, I have “detect network automatically” and the provider is correct.
    QUESTION: If this phone has the frequencies the Fact Sheet says it does, why can’t I get a 3G signal? Isn’t it manufactured one way? OR Is it manufactured with only certain bands depending on what country it’s going to? Remember! This has never been produced for any carrier. I believe there must be a way to access the WCDMA bands of 850/1900 which is what AT&T USA uses. HELP!

    • Ouch. As you mentioned in the specs on your box: the phone supports 900/2100 while AT&T is 850/1900 so you will not be able to get 3G. The Fact Sheet basically states that there are 3 different dual-band configurations and you got the 850/2100 which is sadly not compatible with AT&T’s 850/1900 so you have to resort to using 2G and Wi-Fi sadly. Or get a new phone

      • WOW! I just saw this today. My notifications were screwed up. Thanks for the quick reply. I returned that Defy and am getting my 6th original Defy. I think it is all around the best phone ever. However, i have had one main problem with it and maybe you can answer the unanswerable, so far. I use the unlocked version on AT&T. AT&T uses 850/1900 for 3G and T-Mo 850/1700. When I try to find my location using Google Maps it takes about 5 minutes to find me. Is this definitely 100% because the Defy doesn’t have the 1900 band? It does find me and I’m pretty sure it’s nearly instant running on T-Mo. The only other thing is I’ve seen this reported problem from people using it on T-Mo. What do you think?
        Thanks!

      • Finding your location uses the GPS of the device and but if it supports assisted GPS which utilizes information from the network (i.e. depends on cell reception) it could be a factor. But as long as there is cellular reception, I would think not supporting 1900 band shouldn’t be an issue but I’m not sure on the exact technicalities of AGPS and how it is implemented so I could be wrong.

  5. I recently bought an unlocked Samsung Jet s8000. The specs of this phone states that it is HSDPA 1900/2100 but also 850/1900, which is the UMTS that at&t uses. But for some reason, when I plugged in my at&t simcard, I do not have 3G. Does anyone have any explanation why this might be or is the specs just wrong?

    • Based on GSM Arena, they have 2 lines for HSDPA frequencies which I think means that there are 2 different models: one supports 900/2100 while the other 850/1900. If you have the 900/2100 model, and AT&T only has 850/1900 towers (based on Wikipedia MNC list), that would suggest you won’t have 3G. If you have the 850/2100 model, perhaps there is a phone setting that is disabling 3G. I’m not sure how to tell the difference between 2 different models, perhaps looking at the serial number and contacting Samsung support to find out.

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