What are dual-band, tri-band and quad-band phones?
What you need to know about dual- tri- and quad-band phones.
GSM service providers use four different frequencies to deliver service to your phone: 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz. The U.S. operates on two GSM bands: 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. On the other hand, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia depends on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz.
Each cell phone performs on specific bands. It is important to know which bands your phone is compatible with, if you are planning to travel overseas with a single handset.
Dual-band phones released in the US will be useless in Europe or Asia due to network differences.
Tri-band and quad-band phones run on a combination of three and four bands, which guarantee you that your phone will have service throughout the world.
What GSM frequencies do my cell phone need?
What are GSM bands?
Cell phones use radio waves to transmit our conversations and text messages. Similar to radio stations, radio waves can transmit at different frequencies. For example, if you are listening to any FM radio stations, the station is in the FM radio band which is between 88-108 MHz. In contrast, if you are listening to any AM radio stations, they are in the AM radio band which is between 0.55 and 1.6 MHz.
GSM frequencies used in the US
In the US, there are two available GSM bands – 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. The 850 MHz band is typically seen in rural areas because this frequency has better range than the 1900 MHz.
Do I need both frequencies to use as cell phone in the US?
It really depends on the areas where you use your cell phone. If you are in a major metropolitan area, you probably will not have much use for the 850 MHz band. However, if you travel to the country regularly, it may be valuable to have the extra coverage of the 850 MHz band.
GSM frequencies used abroad
GSM was originally developed in Europe and then came over to the US. Initially, all European countries used the 900 MHz band. Later on service providers have increasingly been adding 1800 MHz coverage due to the congestion on the 900 MHz band. Therefore, in Europe there are two available GSM bands – 850 MHz and 1900 MHz.
When the US began to use the 1900 MHz frequencies first followed by the 850 MHz band, a few countries with very close links to the US chose to use the same frequencies as the US. These countries for example are Canada, Mexico, and and most countries of South America. All international countries that have the US frequencies have 1900 MHz band with only a few using the 850 MHz.
The rest of the parts of the world opt for 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. That includes: Europe, Asia, Australia, Middle East, Africa.
When traveling internationally, it depends on what countries you plan to visit in relation to what frequencies you will need on your trip. 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.
It is important to 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. For more information complete with network coverage maps, refer to the official GSM Association’s website.
So, what GSM bands I should care the most?
If you are only using your phone in the US, you can get away with getting a dual-band phone that supports both 850 MHz and 1900 MHz frequencies. Also a single-band phone with only 1900 MHz service should give almost as good coverage.
If you intend to travel and use your phone only internationally, then it is important to clarify whether you will be using the phone in countries that use international frequencies (900 MHz or 1800 MHz) or US frequencies (1900 MHz or 850 MHz). If you only need to use the phone in countries with international frequencies, then get a dual band 900/1800 MHz phone. A single band phone with only 900 MHz will give reasonably good coverage but most international phones have both these days. If you need to use the phone in countries that also have the US 1900 MHz frequency, get a tri-band phone with 900/1800/1900 MHz.
Used both in US and internationally
The two “must have” frequencies are the 900 MHz and the 1900 MHz due to popularity and decent coverage around the globe. Also won’t hurt to have a device that supports 850 MHz and 1800 MHz as it opens up more foreign countries and rural areas in the US.
Ideally, if you plan to use your phone both in the US and internationally, get a quad-band phone, which is global ready compatible with 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 so you have to no worry about your coverage.
Tri-band phones – What you need to know
Tri-band phones, as the name suggests, support three different frequency bands but they may differ in their choice of which three of the four bands they support. The two most common variations are the 900/1800/1900 MHz which is excellent for international travels and very good in the US and the 850/1800/1900 which is excellent in the US but may not work in every country you plan to visit.
In the US, Canada and Mexico a dual-band phone with 850 /1900 MHz support will do the job, but will fall when you go to Europe, Africa or Asia. Settling for the next best choice, a tri-band phone is what consumers should look for, however, be careful what three bands the device has as some bands are more useful than others depending on where you travel. Ideally, you may consider getting a a quad-band phone that can work on all four bands and will connect to the service no matter where your journey will take you.