UK 4G operates on various bands, or radio frequencies, in order to work properly.
We are all very used to seeing the alphanumerical codes 3G or 4G in the corner of our phone screens, but you may not know what they mean or how they work.
This can raise issues if you are buying a high-end Chinese Android from overseas, for example.
You could have buyer’s remorse when you suddenly discover that a network does not operate on the right band to support your device.
What are bands?
Bands are the various radio frequencies that provide the necessary spectrum an operator needs.
To produce UK 4G signals there are three main bands used by providers: Band 20 (800MHz), Band 3 (1800MHz) and Band 7 (2600MHz) although Band 8 (900MHz) and Band 1 (2100MHz) are also available.
Every UK operator uses different bands to deliver their mobile networks.
The core Big Four network, that’s EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone, support mobile virtual network operators (MNVO) who essentially piggyback off the core to provide their own voice calls, 3G and 4G data.
- EE: Bands 1, 3, 7, and 20
- O2: Bands 3, 7, 8, and 20
- Three: Bands 1, 3, and 20
- Vodafone: using the greatest number – Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, and 20
Although many operators piggyback off this core, with some operators such as iD Mobile using three frequencies (Bands 1, 3, and 20) and others, like Giffgaff, using four (Bands 1, 3, 8, and 20). Only Vodafone offer five different Bands.
How to know if a network supports your phone
The most important question when it comes to UK 4G bands, does your network support the frequency your phone is on?
Fortunately, it’s usually pretty simple to find out the answer to this question.
Obviously, if you buy your phone directly from an operator, there are some serious issues for you and them to discuss if their network does not support the phone they’ve sold you.
However, it’s different for SIM Only customers, or those who purchase their phone second hand, when the network you are on does not necessarily have anything to do with the phone you have purchased.
At this point, it becomes necessary to ensure that your network will support your phone. In most cases, the bands that your phone’s 4G works on will be listed in your phone’s network connections.
These will normally listed as they are above, for example, 3, 7, 8, 20, so it is important to have a guide like this one to hand so you can check that with the frequencies available from each operator.
As long as you have a phone on any one of the frequencies mentioned in this guide, you have a phone that will be able to function on major and minor networks in the UK.
As pointed out above, however, not every frequency is supported by every network, so it is vital that you make sure the phone’s frequencies and the operator’s frequencies match up.
What if my new phone doesn’t work on these Bands?
If it’s too late and you’ve already got a phone on a network that doesn’t support, it isn’t the end of the world.
All networks support 3G frequencies, so even if you cannot get UK 4G on your phone due to the frequencies not matching up, you will still be able to use your network’s 3G connection.
If you can’t get by without fast 4G data, then it’s worth switching your network or your phone as soon as possible so the frequencies line up.
The shadow of 5G
Although it will not be ready for public release for a few years yet, 5G is very much on the horizon, and as a result more frequencies are necessary, as a result, Ofcom are auctioning off spectrum space at 2300MHz and 3400MHz.
With caps ensuring that those who already own a large percentage of immediately usable spectrum space, just as BT/EE, cannot corner the market, it is worth keeping an eye on how the distribution of the new bands occur.
It makes sense that the more spectrum space an operator holds on a particular frequency, the better service they can provide.
With Vodafone being the only other operator to be affected by the cap in the auction, we could see the weight a little more evenly distributed going forward.