Note: This article is being continuously updated.
What are the 4G LTE bands supported by AT&T? Do they differ from the 4G LTE bands that T-Mobile uses? And what about Verizon Wireless massive 4G LTE network and its supported frequencies? And where is Sprint left in the 4G LTE picture?
If you have ever tried to understand what's the deal with 4G LTE band support, you would have inevitably stumbled upon a reality of limitations and restrictions. Many phones, for example, only support bands for a particular carrier and not for others.
We are breaking down the 4G LTE carrier bands for each of the major U.S. carrier (take a look at the table at the bottom of this article), but first, let's say a few words about the state of 4G LTE on all of them.
|Carrier||4G LTE Bands||Main Frequencies|
|AT&T||2, 4, 5, 12, 14, 17, 29, 30, 66||1900, 1700 abcde, 700 bc|
|Verizon Wireless||2, 4, 5, 13, 66||1900, 1700 f, 700 c|
|T-Mobile||2, 4, 5, 12, 66, 71||1900, 1700 def, 700 a, 600|
|Sprint||25, 26, 41||1900 g, 850, 2500|
|Europe||3, 7, 20||1800, 2600, 800|
|China, India||40, 41||2300, 2500|
First, AT&T. The company has rolled out a massive 4G LTE network in the United States with support for bands 2, 4, 5 and 17, but the backbone of it remains band 17 in the 700MHz range, the company's primary band. From 2017, AT&T towers also support band 12 as per FCC requirements. Since band 12 is a superset of band 17, these are now commonly referred to as one entity (band 12), and again, are the backbone of the LTE network.
Here is a breakdown of all the individual bands at AT&T and what's their role:
- Band 2 (1900MHz frequency range): it is one of the core bands for AT&T LTE as the carrier has large, 20x20MHz blocks in most markets.
- Band 4 (AWS-1700/2100MHz): this band is used as a supplement for improved capacity and is usually deployed in small, 5x5MHz blocks.
- Band 5 (850MHz): this band is used most commonly 3G (HSPA+ ) connectivity, but some of it also goes toward LTE. AT&T owns a lot in this frequency range throughout the nation, and band 5 is sometimes used in areas where there is no band 12/17 coverage.
- Band 12/17 (700MHz): the backbone of AT&T's LTE network and it provides practically a nation-wide coverage.
- Band 14 (700MHz): AT&T has a nationwide license for band 14. The carrier acquired these bands from FirstNet and they will be used for a federally-funded public safety channel. These will only be deployed in states that opt in the FirstNet service.
- Band 29 (700MHz): this is a supplementary channel. AT&T purchased this from Qualcomm and it is mostly deployed in a 5x0 configuration, meaning that you get one small 5MHz block for download (in some limited places like the California coast and northeast you have 10x0 blocks). This band cannot be used for upload.
- Band 30 (WCS 2300MHz): another supplementary band for 4G LTE. AT&T has deployed chunks of 10x10 across the nation.
- Band 66 (AWS-3-1700/2100MHz): band 66 is a superset of band 4, meaning that it includes all of the band 4 blocks plus adds a few more. AT&T usually deploys this in 10x10 chunks, and you could commonly see it in the New York and New Jersey areas. It is actively being deployed.
Verizon Wireless was the first to arrive to the 4G LTE race and it has also built its nationwide network based on 700 MHz spectrum, but the primary band for Verizon is band 13. Bands 2 and 4 are used to strengthen the signal in the densely populated urban areas. One important thing to note about Verizon Wireless is that many phones are built specifically for the carrier, including its 4G LTE bands. In other words, the common case is that you will not be able to use an AT&T device on Verizon's 4G LTE network.
Here is a detailed breakdown of the 4G LTE bands that Verizon uses:
- Band 2 (1900MHz): this is a band that Verizon is actively transitioning from 2G/3G for use for LTE. It is currently a supplementary carrier that brings more capacity to the network and is commonly deployed in 10x10 chunks.
- Band 4 (1700/2100MHz): Verizon has solid amounts of these bands that it deploys in larger, 20x20MHz blocks in many markets.
- Band 5 (850MHz): it is a band that Verizon is still using for 2G/3G services in some markets, while for others, it is using this band for LTE. Verizon holds a lot of this spectrum nationwide and usually deploys it in 10x10 blocks.
- Band 13 (700MHz): this is the backbone of the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network. Verizon has this rolled out to most markets across the nation, but since it is usually deployed in rather small 10x10 chunks, it could become congested fairly easily.
- Band 66 (1700/2100MHz): this is a superset of band 4 (meaning that it has all the frequencies of band 4, plus a few additional blocks). It is usually deployed in small chunks and it not available everywhere.
Sprint first lit up a WiMax network in the early days of 4G, but has since then made the strategic choice to go with 4G LTE technology and has flipped the switch on the WiMax network in early 2016.
Sprint's current 4G LTE network runs on bands 25, 26 and 41 with band 25 in the 1900 MHz range being the carrier's primary frequency. Band 41 is used to boost the capacity of the network and its speed, while the low-frequency band 26 is used to boost coverage.
Interestingly, Sprint does carrier aggregation a bit differently than the rest of the carriers. Sprint uses "intraband" carrier aggregation (CA), meaning that it is aggregating the same LTE band (band 41 + band 41, for instance). In contrast, other carriers use "interband" CA, meaning that aggregation happens between two different frequencies (band 12 + band 4, for instance). One interesting consequences of this technology is that you usually end up connected to two channels on the same cell site, unlike with other carriers. Sprint used to call carrier aggregation Sprint Spark, but since the term was a bit confusing, they are now simply referring to areas with CA as LTE+.
Here is a breakdown of the 4G LTE bands that Sprint uses and their importance:
- Band 25 (1900MHz): this is a superset of band 2 (meaning that it includes band 2 frequencies plus the additional G block) that we are commonly seeing on other carriers as well. It is deployed in different chunks in different regions, from 5x5 blocks to 15x15 blocks.
- Band 26 (800MHz): Sprint's low-frequency band is used for extra coverage in some rural areas and coverage within buildings. It is available in small 5x5 chunks.
- Band 41 (2500MHz): this one is different than the rest since it uses the TDD LTE technology rather than FDD LTE like everyone else in the US. What this means is that in this band you get higher allocation for the downlink stream than the uplink.
Finally, T-Mobile has been the loudest and arguably the fastest growing 4G LTE network, especially in the big cities.
Currently, T-Mobile's main band is still band 4 (AWS) in the 1700 MHz range. It is the band T-Mobile uses in densely populated areas and while it may not quite have the penetration capabilities that come with B2, it is considered more stable. Historically, T-Mobile used band 4 back in the times of HSPA+ networks and has later on repurposed the frequency for 4G LTE, plus it has added additional coverage to the band via the MetroPCS acquisition. Band 2, on the other hand, is used in markets where band 4 is not available, but the two are also aggregated for better coverage in markets, where both are available. You can typically see band 2 used in rural/suburban areas.
T-Mobile has also won a big, 30MHz chunk of spectrum in an auction held in summer of 2017. The frequencies that it is now allowed to operate are in the low-band, 600MHz band, and are referred to as 4G LTE band 71. Interestingly, band 71 uses old UHF TV frequencies, and it will be relying more on them in the future as TV stations clear them. At the end of 2018, there were over 800 cities and towns that support the new longer range band 71. These frequencies are also expected to become the base for T-Mobile's upcoming 5G network, while at the current time, they contribute the most to the company's small city and rural coverage. The full deployment of band 71 is expected to boost T-Mobile coverage by 6 million additional people.
Band 12 is similar to the newer band 71 in that T-Mobile describes both as "extended range LTE". The one key advantage of band 12 over band 71 is that it is available on many more phones. Band 71 is currently available on later models like the 2018 family of iPhones and it is the band that T-Mobile will be using to expand the network in the future.
And here is an overview of all the bands:
- Band 2 (1900MHz frequency range): this is a band mostly used in rural areas, or where band 4 is not available. It has higher reach, and it is widely used in the Northeast to provide 4G coverage to distant places. T-Mobile has deployed various chunks of spectrum, from smaller 5x5 blocks to larger and speedier 20x20 blocks. This band is also used for 2G and 3G.
- Band 4 (1700MHz/2100MHz): the backbone of T-Mobile's LTE network. It is usually deployed in large 20x20MHz chunks in most markets, providing fast speed and a stable connection. Used for more densely populated areas.
- Band 5 (850MHz): Extremely limited use. Most band 5 coverage is offered by Verizon and AT&T. T-Mobile only operates LTE on this band around the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area.
- Band 12 (700MHz): an "extended range LTE" band, used mostly as a complimentary band for coverage in rural and suburban areas, and it is similar to band 71 in function. It is supported on most phones.
- Band 66 (1700/2100MHz): an extension (superset) of band 4, this band is supported on devices since late 2016. Available in small 5x5MHz chunks and is not yet widely deployed because Federal Agencies need to clear the bands first.
- Band 71 (600MHz): the big win of the FCC auction for T-Mobile, this band was previously used by UHF TV stations. T-Mobile owns band 71 all across the nation in big chunks, and will be deploying it in the near future. Since this is a 600MHz range band, it will have wider coverage and will improve coverage inside buildings. It is supported only by newer phones like the 2018 series of iPhones.
While the 700 MHz range in various bands has been the backbone of the U.S. 4G LTE coverage, in Europe and China carriers use different spectrum and bands, so phones from the United States may not work there. In Europe, most carriers base their networks on bands 3 (1800 MHz), 7 (2600 MHz) and 20 (800 MHz).
China, on the other hand, uses a whole different 4G LTE standard - while the Western world has rolled out FDD-LTE networks, China and large parts of Asia use TDD-LTE. The differences between FDD and TDD are purely technical and the main one boils down to the fact that FDD is symmetrical (1:1 upload vs download), while TDD allows variable up / down ratio. The main bands for China are TD bands 40 and 41.
Do not forget that you can always check the supported bands for each phone by simply looking up the specs at PhoneArena.com!