Which frequencies do UK networks use?
There are 4 main networks in the UK. All other networks (known as ‘virtual networks’) use the infrastructure of the main 4 networks. Three frequency bands are used for 4G LTE in the UK. 800MHz band, 1800MHz band and 2600MHz.
EE (Virgin Mobile)
EE uses all the frequencies currently in use for 4G. If you’re in doubt of which network to choose when purchasing an unlocked Chinese Smartphone, EE is a safe bet. The network owns 2 x 5MHz of the 800MHz spectrum, 2 x 35GHz of the 2.6GHz spectrum and 2 x 45MHz of 1.8GHz spectrum. You can buy an EE SIM on the EE website.
Vodafone (BT Mobile/Talkmobile/Lebara)
Vodaphone uses almost all the frequencies used for 4G, with the exception of the 1.8GHz. It owns 2 x 10MHz of 800MHz spectrum, 1 x 20MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum and 1 x 25MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum. Most Chinese Smartphones will use these frequencys, and should work on Vodaphone
O2 (GiffGaff/Tesco Mobile)
O2 owns 2 x 10MHz of 800MHz spectrum, but nothing else. If you’re on the 02 network you should be careful and make sure the phone you’re choosing uses the 800MHz spectrum
Three owns 2 x 5MHz of 800MHz spectrum, but also purchased 2 x 15MHz of 1.8GHz spectrum from EE. Most Chinese Smartphones should work on Three, and Three comes with the bonus of offering unlimited data on some SIM only plans.
What do these frequency’s mean?
Broadly speaking, low frequencies like the 800MHz spectrum can travel far distances and provide good indoor coverage. If you live in a rural area, its best to choose a network with a low frequency. However they don’t have high capacity, so not many people can use them at the same time. If you’re in a built up area, with a lot of devices around you, low frequencies may not work very well.
Higher frequencies, like the 2.6GHz work better in built up areas, but don’t have the capability to go very far and have trouble going through walls, so you may not get the best signal.
Most networks use multiple frequencies, and most smartphones are built to receive them, but you should check your network requirements before purchasing a phone.
All UK networks use the 21000Mhz spectrum for 3G. You should not have a problem using a 3G connection with any Chinese phone.