Bandwidths used by US Mobile Providers and why you should know them

Today there are more than 260 million cell phone users in the US alone. Yet, only a small portion of these users are aware of what bandwidth their provider uses, or why it’s actually important to know that information. So let’s discuss what cell phone frequency bands are, why we should know about them, and how it can be helpful in our lives. 

What are cellular frequency bands?

Cell phone networks are radio signals that travel from the providers’ cell towers to our phones, allowing us to make calls and use mobile internet to exchange text messages, images, videos, etc. Those radio signals have a specific frequency, in other words, vibration ‘density’. More vibrations equal higher frequency.

Now different cell phone networks might use different frequencies to transmit their signals. A range of those frequencies within the incoming signal is most commonly referred to as bandwidth.

The first network standard in the US was the AMPS network, which used the 800 MHz bandwidth, but as the number of subscribers was rapidly growing, the network found itself unable to support that number, which resulted in the initiation of new networks that different providers started to operate on. AMPS was eventually pushed out of the market, replaced by CDMA, and most importantly, GSM, which is the most popular network in the US today and is widely used all over the world. GSM frequency bands are used by the majority of the providers. 

Usually, bandwidths have short numbers just to make the range look more readable, for example, 1900 MHz – Band 2, 2100 MHz – Band 4, etc. These frequencies can also be different depending on the service. For instance, AT&T cell phone frequency for their 4G/LTE service and for the 5G service can be different, not to mention, it might differ from T-mobile frequency bands, or Sprint network bands and Verizon network bands. Read on to see the full chart of providers and the frequencies they use. 

Why should you know your cell phone frequency bands?

This is not really self-evident, but knowing the frequency bands your phone operates on is an important piece of information. Let’s see why.

  • Phone Bandwidth.  As we mentioned before, the bandwidth of your phone determines the range of frequencies it can operate on. So if a certain provider is working on those frequencies as well, you can switch to that provider if you desire so. If not, than your phone will simply not be compatible with that provider. 
  • Mobile Network. Another important thing is knowing not only the bandwidth but the network you phone can support. As we said, the most popular networks in the US today are GSM and CDMA. And they usually don’t mix on older models of cell phones. Most of the recent models do support both, but older ones will probably be compatible with only one of those. 
  • Locked vs Unlocked. You have probably heard the term ‘locked phone’, or vice versa, ‘unlocked phone’. A locked phone, means the device has a software code on it, preventing it from operating with a different provider. Meaning if you purchased the phone from AT&T per se, and it’s not unlocked, you will not be able to use the same device with Sprint, for example. So if you want to switch providers or switch the device, you have to make sure the networks and the devices bandwidth are compatible. Plus, US frequency bands can differ from other countries, so if you are planning to use the device abroad with a completely different provider, consider getting an unlocked phone after all. It’s definitely more pricey, but you’ll have the freedom to choose providers and switch if you like. 

How to check frequency band on your phone?

This is fairly straightforward, you have to put your phone in a ‘field test’ mode, but the procedure is a bit different for iOS and Android users, as usual. So let’s see how you can get this information from your device. 

First of all, turn on the mobile data and the 3G/4G service, and turn off your wifi connection. 

  • If you are an iPhone user, enter *3001#12345#* in your call box to enter field test mode. Click on Freq Band Indicator to see the 4G/LTE frequency you are operating on. 
  • If you are an Android user, enter *#0011# in the call box, and it will directly show the frequency you are currently on. 

The range of signals used by different providers for various services is not that different, but just to make sure you have the right information up your sleeve, let’s see what bandwidths they use and provide a table for easier access. 

What frequencies are used by US providers?

As we mentioned before, the frequencies for various services can be different, so here’s a table for your convenience.  

Provider 3G  4G  5G
AT&T (GSM) 850, 1900MHz 700, 850, 1700/2100, 1900, 2300 MHz 850 MHz, 39GHz
T-Mobile (GSM)  1900, 1700/2100 MHz 600,700,1900,

1700/2100 MHz

600 MHz, 28GHz, 39 GHz
Verizon (CDMA) 850, 1900 MHz 700, 850, 1900, 1700/2100 MHz 28 GHz
Sprint  (CDMA) 800, 1900 MHz 800,1900,2500 MHz 2.5 GHz

No matter which provider you choose to cooperate with, or what service to use, it always pays off to be an informed user and have the correct facts and numbers. This way, you can make sure you get the most out of your devices and mobile providers. 

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