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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.

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.

Frequency Bands by Country

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

 

 

 

 

Côte 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

 


 

 

 

 

 


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