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.

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Data Compiled and Used
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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