If you’re wondering whether the smartphone you bought (or the one you’re about to buy) will work with LTE in other countries, I regret to inform you that the LTE band situation is nothing less of a complete and total mess with 24 different bands used in countries throughout the world. To try to make sense of this mess, I’ve scoured through this list of LTE networks worldwide to come up with a smaller list, sorted by the bands themselves and where they’re used.
|LTE Band #||Frequency||Blocks||Non-U.S. Locations Used||U.S. GSM Providers||U.S. Non-GSM|
|1||2100||Angola, Czech, Estonia, Japan, Philippines, S. Korea, Thailand, Australia|
|2||1900||Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic||AT&T / T-Mobile|
|3||1800||Africa, S. America, Asia, Caribbean, Europe, Mid East, Oceania (Australia)|
|4||1700||abcdef||Central and South America||AT&T / T-Mobile (def)||Verizon (f)|
|5||850||S. Korea, Malaysia, Australia (Vodafone)||AT&T||US Cellular|
|7||2600||South America, Asia, Europe, Mid East, Australia (Telstra, Optus)|
|8||900||South Korea, Czech, Germany, Sweden, Australia (Telstra)|
|12||700||abc||Caribbean||AT&T / T-Mobile||US Cellular|
|17||700||bc||Subset of Band 12 (above)||AT&T|
|28||700||Finland, France, Australia, Latin America|
|38||2600||Uganda, Brazil, Poland, Finland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia|
|40||2300||Africa, Asia, Russia, Mid East, Australia (Optus), Vanuatu|
|41||2500||China, Japan, Philippines||Sprint|
|42||3500||Belgium, UK, Bahrain, Philippines|
This gets us the list of 24 different LTE bands used worldwide. Now let’s narrow it down even further. Note that for non-U.S. locations I’ve listed the region when most or several countries within that region make use of that band, and when only one or two countries within that region use that band, I’ve listed those countries specifically.
Next, you can see that several of the lines of the chart above are greyed out. This is part of the weeding process. These are bands which are only used by one or two countries and thus deemed relatively non-essential unless you’re living in one of those countries (in which case you should probably buy a phone in that country).
There are 3 LTE bands that are widely used throughout the world and should be considered essential if you hope to have LTE coverage while traveling internationally:
- Band 3 – 1800 MHz, used in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East, Oceania
- Band 7 – 2600 MHz, used in South America, Asia, Europe, Middle East, Australia
- Band 20 – 800 MHz, used in Africa, Europe, Middle East
Using Europe as an example, these three bands will practically ensure you have LTE coverage. There are a few countries within Europe that use additional bands, but they seemed to be supplemental to these 3, so you should still be covered.
One important area that is not covered by the three bands above is the United States. There are 6 LTE bands that are used by the big GSM providers in the States:
- Band 2 – 1900 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile
- Band 4 – 1700 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile
- Band 5 – 850 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile (and US Cellular, which will offer roaming to T-Mobile)
- Band 12 – 700 MHz, used by AT&T and T-Mobile
- Band 17 – 700 MHz, a subset of band 12
- Band 30 – 2300 MHz, blocks ‘a’ and ‘b’ uses by AT&T
If Band 12 is supported by your device, that should include support for band 17 (700 Mhz blocks ‘b’ and ‘c’), which is a subset of band 12. Keep in mind, some bands are used in specific regions, so missing a band may not affect you at all depending on where you are or where you’ll be. Unfortunately, finding out what bands are used where is no easy task, especially with LTE being constantly rolled out in new places.
Many of the bands used in the United States are also used as well as in Canada, particularly bands 2, 4, and 17. Many of them are used in Latin America as well, so in addition to bands 3 and 7 from above, you should be well-covered there.
Beyond the bands mentioned above, which should give you a good chance of LTE coverage generally, if you plan on spending a lot of time in a specific country, you should look to see if there are other LTE bands used there that may either be necessary for LTE coverage, or just provide you with better service. Some examples:
- Band 1 – 2100 MHz, used in Angola, Czech Republic, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand
- Band 8 – 900 MHz, used in Australia, Czech Republic, South Korea, Sweden
- Band 28 – 700 MHz, used often in Latin America, plus Australia, Taiwan
- Band 38 – 2600 MHz, used in Brazil, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Uganda
- Band 40 – 2300 MHz, used in Africa, Asia, Russia, Middle East, Australia, Vanuatu
As you can see, the LTE band situation is a mess, but at least we’ve narrowed it down a bit, and hopefully this can help you determine which bands are important for you. Many smartphones being sold today only support the few LTE bands used in the region where the device is marketed. The higher-end “flagship” devices will support more, so look to these devices if you want broad international LTE coverage.
Based on the info above, I would suggest a device with, at a minimum, bands 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 20 to get LTE coverage in most countries.
Finally, keep in mind that if your smartphone lacks support for an LTE band you need, there’s a very good chance that it will still have 3G (HSDPA) band support, and with 3G now being capable of speeds up to 42Mbps, you’ll should still have access to fast data.
Feel free to ask a question in the comments below.