Cell Phone Frequency Bands by Provider

Cell Phone Frequency Bands by Provider

Written by Wilson Amplifiers
16th Apr 2021

Cellular Frequency Bands Explained

Our mobile devices depend on radio frequencies (RF) to connect to a mobile network. RF signals allow us to make calls, send text messages, stream videos, and browse the web without needing to be connected to a WiFi network.

Knowing how radio frequencies work and which frequencies are used by specific cell phone providers can help you switch carriers and purchase a device that is compatible with your network, as well as help figure out which networks and bandwidths best serve your area.

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What are Cellular Frequency Bands?

Cellular carriers lease out multiple frequencies from the government airwaves to grant users access to their network. Phones and other mobile devices use specific frequencies to communicate with the carrier’s cell towers.

A frequency is the number of sound waves occurring per second. They are usually measured in Hertz (Hz). A higher frequency means that the sound waves move a lot faster, and vice versa. All cellular frequencies fall under the RF spectrum, which ranges from 3 kHz to 300 GHz.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are in charge of the RF spectrum allocation. They divide the RF spectrum into multiple ranges of frequencies, known as bands. Within the RF spectrum, the cellular bands are roughly located between 600 MHz and 39 GHz.

Keep in mind: frequency bands represent a range of frequencies, not a single cellular frequency. For example, the 700 MHz frequency band ranges from 699 MHz to 798 MHz.

Why do Cellular Carriers have Multiple Frequencies?

Cellular carriers need licenses from the FCC to use a given cellular bands. Usually, one license within a large band only gives the carrier exclusive rights to a small section of the band, also known as a block or channel. As we’ll discuss later, many carriers utilize similar bands for their networks, but they operate on different blocks of that band to avoid interfering with each other. Smaller bands, on the other hand, are not made up of multiple blocks and are usually exclusive to one carrier.

The blocks carriers purchase are located on different sections of the RF spectrum that have been specifically allocated for cellular use. They can consist of high or low frequencies. Lower frequencies have the ability to travel further and penetrate obstacles, such as trees, hills, and buildings better, making them great for rural and remote areas. On the other hand, higher frequencies can’t travel as far or penetrate obstacles as well as lower frequencies, but they can transmit data at a faster rate. Therefore, they are better for highly populated urban areas.

To provide their customers with the most reliable cellular network, cellular carriers have to buy multiple FCC licenses throughout the RF spectrum.

How do Cellular Frequency Bands Work?

To access a carrier's frequency bands, your mobile device must first be activated on the carrier's network. Each carrier owns a range of frequencies to allow its customers to transmit information through their unique network. The cell phone and the cell towers can only communicate with each other through those frequency bands.

The way the signal is transmitted differs between bands.

Most bands are a set of two with a guard band in the middle to prevent them from interring with each other. One band is used to sends information to a cell tower from a mobile device (known as uplink), while the other is used to send information to a cell phone from a cell tower (known as downlink). This form of cellular transition is called Frequency Division Duplex (FDD). The separation of the bands allows data to be sent and received simultaneously. The devices using FDD bands experience fast voice and data transmissions.

Other bands use Time Division Duplex (TDD) bands to transmit information. TDD bands use a single band for uplink and downlink transmissions. Even though the transition between uplink to downlink transmissions is relatively fast and most people don't notice the latency, it can still hinder the performance of the cellular network.

A Short History of Frequency Bands

Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) was the first generation of cellular technology. Devices at the time used the 800 MHz band for voice transmission. As cell phone usage increase, the band was no longer large enough to support all of the devices. To account for new technologies, the FCC opened the 1900 MHz band and named it the Personal Communications Service (PCS). For a while, AMPS and PCS were the only cellular frequency bands in use.

Years passed, and smartphones debuted. Since they were no longer just used for calling and texting, they required a lot more bandwidth. The Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) band, which is the 1700/2100 MHz band, was introduced to provide high-speed cellular data. Later the lower and upper 700 MHz bands opened up for licensing. These lower frequency bands made it possible for cellular carriers to transmit signals in remote and rural areas.

As you've probably noticed, any time cellular demand increases, more bandwidth is needed. With the arrival of 5G, the amount of IoT (internet of things) devices utilizing the network will increase. To support this new technology and higher bandwidth demands, cellular carriers are expanding their frequency bands.

3G Frequencies & Popular 3G Technology Terms

3G:   3G (short for third-generation) is a mobile telecommunications system used in cell phones that grew in popularity in the 2000s in North America. 3G handles talk, text, and basic mobile internet.

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access):   Developed by Qualcomm (an American tech company), CDMA grew in popularity in the 1990s and is the most popular mobile standard in North America and other select countries.

USA CDMA Wireless Network/Carriers:

Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular, Boost Mobile, C Spire, Ting and Virgin Mobile.

GSM (Global System for Mobiles):   Developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, GSM grew in popularity in the 1980s and in the post popular mobile standard around the world in over 219 countries.

USA GSM Wireless Network/Carriers:

AT&T, T-Mobile, MetroPCS.

Note: CDMA and GSM phones are incompatible with each other!

4G Frequencies & Popular 4G Technology Terms

4G:   4G (short for fourth-generation) is a mobile telecommunications system used in cell phones that grew in popularity in the 2010s in North America. 4G devices are backward-compatible with 3G, meaning it can handle talk, text, and data-heavy fast internet.

WiMAX:   WiMAX was one of the first 4G standards; however, popularity has shifted to LTE. Clear (owned by Sprint Nextel) will continue WiMAX support until the end of 2015 before switching to LTE.

LTE (Long Term Evolution):   This is considered to be true 4G and a popular global mobile standard. Although LTE uses different frequencies and bands in different countries, a multi-band LTE-compatible phone will most likely work in different countries.

HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access):   Considered 3.5G instead of true 4G, HSPA+ is capable of delivering 4G speeds.

USA HSPA+ Wireless Network/Carriers:

AT&T, T-Mobile Cincinnati Bell, etc.

Note: While 3G handles talk, text, and basic internet, 4G can handle 3G duties and also do fast streaming internet for data-heavy services such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, Facebook, Google Chrome, Google Maps, iTunes, and other apps.

5G Frequencies & Popular 5G Technology Terms

5G:   5G (short for fifth-generation) is the newest telecommunications system. Cellular companies worldwide started deploying 5G ready devices in 2019. This new technology is anticipated to be 20x faster than 4G.

Millimeter-Wave:   Millimeter waves lie in the super-high frequency section of the RF spectrum, which ranges from 30-300 GHz. These frequencies can carry a huge amount of data at high speeds with little latency.

Which Cellular Frequency Bands do Cellular Carriers Use?

The tables below show which bands and frequencies U.S carriers use.

5G and 4G LTE Frequency Bands

Carriers: 5G Bands and Frequencies: 4G LTE Bands and Frequencies:
AT&T 850 MHz: Band n5
39GHz: Band n260
700 MHz: Bands 12/17/29
850 MHz: Band 5
1900 MHz: Band 2
1700 MHz /2100 MHz: Bands 4/66
2300 MHz: Band 30
Verizon Wireless 28 GHz: Band n261
39 GHz: Band n260
700 MHz: Band 13
850 MHz: Band 5
1700/2100 MHz: Bands 4/66
1900 MHz: Band 2
T-Mobile 600 MHz: Band n71
2.5 GHz: Band n41
39 GHz: Band n260
28 GHz: Band n261
600 MHz: Band 71
700 MHz: Band 12
850 MHz: Band 5
1700/2100 MHz: Bands 4/66
1900 MHz: Band 2
Sprint 2.5 GHz: Band n41 800 MHz: Band 26
1900 MHz: Band 25
2500 MHz: Band 41
U.S. Cellular 600 MHz: Band n71 700 MHz: Band 12
850 MHz: Band 5
1700/2100: Band 4
1900: Band 2
Cricket Wireless 850 MHz: Band n5 700 MHz: Bands 17
1900 MHz: Band 2
1700 MHz /2100 MHz: Band 4
2300 MHz: Band 30
Boost Mobile 2.5 GHz: Band n41 800 MHz: Band 26
1900 MHz: Band 25
2500 MHz: Band 41
Metro by T-Mobile 600 MHz: Band n71 600 MHz: Band 71
700 MHz: Band 12
850 MHz: Band 5
1700/2100 MHz: Bands 4/66
1900 MHz: Band 2

3G Frequency Bands

Carriers: Network: 3G Bands and Frequencies:
AT&T GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ 850 MHz: Band 5
1900 MHz: Band 2
Verizon Wireless CDMA 850 MHz: Band 0
1900 MHz: Band 1
T-Mobile GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ 1900 MHz: Band 2
1700/2100 MHz: Band 4
Sprint CDMA 800 MHz: Band 10
1900 MHz: Band 2
U.S. Cellular CDMA 850 MHz: Band 5
1900 MHz: Band 2
Cricket Wireless GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ 850 MHz: Band 5
1900 MHz: Band 2
Boost Mobile CDMA 800 MHz: Band 10
1900 MHz: Band 2
Metro by T-Mobile GSM/UMTS/HSPA+ 1900 MHz: Band 2
1700/2100 MHz: Band 4

Why are Cellular Frequencies Important?

If you want to activate your cell phone with another carrier or purchase an unlocked device that was not manufactured by your carrier, knowing the frequency band the device supports can help narrow down your choices.

The device must be compatible with the carrier’s frequency bands and networks (3G, 4G LTE, and 5G). Usually, a device won't work if it's not compatible with a network. But, if it does work and isn’t completely compatible, you might experience connectivity issues because the device will have trouble accessing the carrier’s cellular bands.

In addition, if you invest in a cell phone signal booster to cure your poor cell signal, knowing the frequency band your phone and your carrier use will help you choose the best possible booster for you.

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Will my Phone Work with Another Carriers Frequency Bands?

Cellular bands work with different technologies, such as 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G networks. So, to make sure your device is compatible with another carrier, not only do they have to utilize a similar band, but they must also have compatible technologies.

Since the 4G LTE network is a global standard, most phones will not have compatibility issues switching between 4G LTE network bands. The compatibility issues lie on the 3G network.

Even though 3G has slowly been fading away, it’s still an important network to consider since it’s the network cell phones fall back on when 4G LTE is not available.

There are two cellular technologies used for 3G networks: CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile) (Global System for Mobile). CDMA is predominantly used by Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular, while GSM is used by AT&T and T-Mobile. Both technologies utilize different frequency bands. For that reason, most GSM devices are not compatible with the CDMA network, and vice versa. However, some CDMA devices can operate on a GSM network.

If you wish to take your device to a different carrier, your device must be compatible with the carrier’s technology and at least one of the carrier’s bands. Of course, the more bands your devices have in common with that carrier, the better experience you will have on that carrier's network.

For example, T-Mobile and AT&T utilize the same technology, and many of the same bands. Therefore, there should not be an issue switching an unlocked T-Mobile phone to AT&T’s network. On the other hand, Sprint and AT&T do not share a similar band nor technology. So, if you were trying to switch an unlocked Sprint phone to the AT&T network, the phone will not work.

How to Check Which Frequency Bands your Phone Supports?

Finding the bands your mobile device supports can be slightly tricky because the information cannot be found in the settings of your phone nor on the packaging of the device.

The easiest way to determine which frequency bands your device supports is by cross-referencing the band your current provider uses with the other carrier's frequency bands. The chart above can assist you in that, or you can contact your cellular service provider. You want overlap between the two networks; the more bands your device supports the better experience you will have.

You can visit wirelessadvisor.com to look at the frequencies your cellular provider uses in your area. Simply enter your zip code, and press search. A list of cell phone carriers in your area will appear. Each listing will show you the frequency bands your carrier support in your area and the technology they use.

Most devices support more bands than the ones a cellular carrier uses. To find all the bands, navigate to the website of the cellular provider the device was purchased from and search for your specific device. Under specs, you will find a "Wireless Technology", "Frequency", or "Network" section, depending on the carrier. That section will show you ALL of the bands and the technologies your device supports. Unfortunately, not every carrier’s website provides this information.

If you are having trouble locating the frequency bands your device supports, most carriers offer free online tools to help you determine if your unlocked phone is compatible with their service.

Contact Us

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