4G Frequencies – Which UK networks will my phone work on?
What frequencies are used in the UK?
There are a total of 5 different frequencies used in the UK used by the mobile networks to deliver their 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services.
- 800MHz (Band 20)
- 900MHz (Band 8)
- 1800MHz (Band 3)
- 2100MHz (Band 1)
- 2600MHz (Band 7)
What frequencies do the different operators use?
Each operator in the UK utilises different frequencies to deliver their mobile networks with the core networks being EE, O2, Vodafone and Three. Then there are also operators, called mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), who utilise the backend of the core networks to offer their own services.
The frequencies used by the major UK networks are listed below:
Frequency converted into bands: 800MHz (Band 20), 900MHz (Band 8), 1800MHz (Band 3), 2100MHz (Band 1) and 2600MHz (Band 7)
The frequencies used by UK’s MVNO’s are listed below:
How can I find out which operators my phone is compatible with?
In order to check if your phone is compatible you need to get your phone specification from your manufactures website and find out the frequencies and bands it supports which you can then reference to the tables above.
In order to get maximum speeds and coverage you want your phone to support all the bands offered by an operator, but don’t forget to check coverage and speeds in your area before making a final decision.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of the relevant 4G frequencies?
Three different frequency bands are used for 4G LTE in the UK. There’s the 800MHz band, the 1800MHz / 1.8GHz band and the 2600MHz / 2.6GHz band.
800MHz frequency band
The 800MHz frequency band is one of two which was auctioned by Ofcom in February of 2013. Previously this band was used to provide analogue television signals, but since TV’s switched over to digital it was freed up to be used with 4G.
The lower the frequency of the band the further it can travel, so the 800MHz band is the most adept of the three at travelling over long distances, which means users can get a 4G signal even when they’re a long way from a mast. This becomes particularly useful in rural areas where masts are likely to be quite spread out.
However, it also has some advantages in cities, because low frequencies are also good at passing through walls and other physical objects. So the 800MHz band is good for indoor coverage and for heavily built up areas where a signal might otherwise struggle to travel.
On the other hand it has a comparatively low capacity, as it was only available in small 5 and 10MHz blocks, which means that it can’t always deal brilliantly with lots of people trying to connect at once, particularly if they’re carrying out demanding actions such as streaming HD video. So even in places with a good connection it may not always deliver consistent speeds, especially in urban areas where there’s likely to be a lot of data traffic.
2.6GHz frequency band
The 2.6GHz band is the other frequency which was auctioned by Ofcom and it’s essentially the opposite of the 800MHz band. So it’s not great at travelling over long distances, meaning that masts need to be closer together to deliver reliable coverage and as such it’s not so suited to rural areas.
It’s also not all that adept at penetrating walls so indoor signal on the 2.6GHz band won’t always be perfect.
But on the other hand with 35MHz blocks available it has a high capacity. So it can cope with thousands of simultaneous connections, which in that sense makes it a good fit for cities and other busy areas.
1.8GHz frequency band
Unlike the other two frequencies the 1.8GHz one wasn’t auctioned, instead it’s a frequency band which EE already had access to and which now Three does too. As you might have guessed, the 1.8GHz band falls somewhere in the middle of the other two.
Which network is in the best position when it comes to frequencies?
The easiest way to see just how the network’s stack up is perhaps to put it into a table, as below:
It’s clear from the table that EE is the only network that’s covering all its bases. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the more MHz of each spectrum a network has the better and more consistent the connection can be and the more future-proofed it is.
With that in mind EE is well prepared for future data demands, with a whole lot of 1.8GHz spectrum, which covers an ideal middle ground, as well as quite a lot of 2.6GHz spectrum and a bit of 800MHz spectrum.
O2 is on paper in the worst position, as while it has more 800MHz spectrum than any network other than Vodafone that’s all it has. So its 4G network should be good at covering rural areas and providing indoor coverage, but it’s not likely to have the same capacity as its rivals. On the other hand O2 has a large network of Wi-Fi hotspots to help out in city centres.
Vodafone has an identical amount of 800MHz spectrum but also has a lot of 2.6GHz spectrum, so it should be quite well served to cover data requirements in the future, as well as being better positioned to provide reliable coverage to rural areas than EE or Three.
Three meanwhile only has a little 800MHz spectrum and no 2.6GHz spectrum, but with 2 x 15MHz of 1.8GHz spectrum it should be fairly well equipped to provide both indoor and outdoor coverage
Going purely on the frequencies and amounts of spectrum that each network has EE is in by far the best position, while O2 may struggle the most to keep up with data demands, particularly in urban areas.
Neither Three nor Vodafone can quite match EE but they should be fairly well served, especially Vodafone, which has the extremes of both the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands covered quite well, even if it has no spectrum in between.
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