Visual Guide to US Mobile Radio Bands
Updated to include the new band 71. Band 12? AWS? Lower 700 MHz? What does it all mean? We explain the arcane world of the radio frequency bands used for mobile phones in the US, in this one-of-a-kind, interactive, visual guide.
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The radio frequency bands used by phones may seem like a dull topic, but it can actually be an important consideration when choosing a phone. For example, when the iPhone 6s came out, there was some excitement that it supported AT&T's bands 29 and 30. Newer T-Mobile phones support LTE band 66, while older phones do not. Band 71 is altogether new and only the newest phones support it. These things may seem nerdy, but they're all actually quite important. Why? That's what this article aims to explain.
Let's start with the basics. Radio spectrum refers to the whole range of radio frequencies. A higher frequency means the signal (radio wave) oscillates faster, like a higher-frequency sound wave. But while our ears can hear and discern a wide range of sound frequencies at once, radios are designed to "hear" just certain specific frequencies. Therefore, two radio devices operating in the same area won't interfere as long as they use different frequencies. That makes frequency a handy way to divide up the airwaves for different uses, like TV, radio, and phones.
The government divides our radio spectrum up into many discrete ranges of frequencies. Each of these ranges is called a "band", and each band is assigned a specific purpose. The FCC is the government agency in charge of this for the U.S.. This is what the U.S. radio spectrum allocation chart looks like:
Don't bother trying to read the chart. (It's a bit outdated anyway.) The point is: Each little colored box in that chart is a band. There's a ton of them.
Some bands are used by the military, police and firefighters. Many different bands are allocated to boats and planes, and satellites take a fair chunk as well. RADAR uses radio waves, so there are bands for that, too.
And of course, some bands are dedicated to the mobile networks that connect your phone to the world.
Each call and each data connection takes up a tiny bit of spectrum, so as the population grows and more people use phones and other connected devices — and use them to do more things — mobile networks require more spectrum to handle the additional usage.
Upgrading to newer technologies also requires additional spectrum. Newer technologies make more efficient use of spectrum, but companies usually need to keep the old networks running side-by-side with the new ones for many years while they roll out the more advanced technology and transition to it, so customers with old phones aren't cut off. Typically, the new and old technology each need to run in their own separate chunk of spectrum, so a surplus of spectrum is required to make such upgrades.
More spectrum means more bands.
One key thing to understand about radio spectrum is that it's all allocated for something; there is almost no "empty" spectrum sitting around waiting for a purpose. (You can see that the chart above doesn't have many empty spaces.) That makes spectrum a limited and extremely valuable resource.
So where do "new" bands come from? Well, it generally starts with the government carefully coordinating the relocation of whatever previously used those frequencies. For example, it may mean budgeting money for the military to replace all radio equipment using those frequencies with new equipment that will use different frequencies.
These kinds of relocations are usually difficult and expensive, which is why they don't happen often. (And sometimes they're just not possible. We can't just hop up to space and replace a satellite's radio with one that uses a different frequency.) That's why the FCC has very limited options when trying to carve out "new" spectrum to auction off to meet demand.
But there is one trend that's been very helpful in coming up with new bands for phones. Let's start by looking at a simpler version of the chart above, focusing on just the bands you're probably most familiar with:
As you can see, the bands set aside for TV are relatively huge. That's partly because they were allocated back in the age of analog technology, which was horribly inefficient compared to modern digital signals. When TV upgraded to HD, it also upgraded to efficient digital technology, which requires less spectrum. This freed up spectrum for mobile (phone) networks. That's where phone bands 12 and 13 came from (also known as the 700 MHz band.)
Another reason so much spectrum was set aside for TV is that it was allocated in the days before cable, satellite, and streaming TV. Over-the-air was the only way to get TV, so we needed spectrum for 80 channels.
There isn't that kind of demand for over-the-air TV anymore, so now the FCC is further consolidating the remaining over-the-air TV stations into a smaller part of the spectrum. They're doing this via a "reverse auction" where they basically pay TV stations to move to different frequencies.
This will free up additional spectrum for mobile networks. This is called the 600 MHz band, and the FCC will auction it off in 2016.
Companies offering mobile phone service in the U.S. need licenses from the FCC in order to use those bands. For larger bands, each individual license covers just part of the band. These parts are called "blocks". This is how two companies can operate in the same band; they actually own licenses for different parts (blocks) within that band, so they don't interfere with each other.
For example, here's how the PCS band (AKA band 2 / band 25) is divided up by blocks in Philadelphia:
(It's different in other places; we'll get to that in a sec. And you're not seeing double, there are two of each block. We'll explain why in a bit.)
Some smaller bands are not divided into blocks. Such bands are usually used by only one company.
Each FCC license covers one block (or small band) and one geographic area. Most bands are divided geographically, and those divisions vary by band (and even block.) For example, Verizon needed to buy only six licenses to own band 13 across the continental U.S., but many other blocks are structured such that you'd need to buy hundreds of licenses to cover the whole country.
Some smaller bands are not divided by region, but rather have just one national license.
A license gives a company exclusive use of that block/band in that area, so it's like owning part of the radio waves. Some blocks have been sub-divided ("partitioned") since they were first auctioned off, and are now owned by different companies.
Regardless of how they're divided geographically, these licenses are usually sold via auctions held by the FCC. Those auctions are rare, and once the licenses are sold, the winning bidders then have a lock on that spectrum. New companies entering the market can't just buy fresh new licenses; they usually need to wait for the next auction. The same is true for existing companies that find they need more spectrum to handle growing demand.
Companies can also buy and sell existing licenses privately among themselves, or lease them. Companies may also acquire existing licenses by buying or merging with another company.
However, the FCC must approve each license transfer. With auctions, private license sales, and company mergers, the FCC enforces rules that keep one company from owning too much spectrum. This ensures competition that keeps service quality high and prices low. In the case of mergers, the FCC may require the new company to sell some of its licenses, or the FCC may arrange their transfer to other entities.
This article focuses on the U.S., but things get far more complex if we look globally. There is a global organization that tries to "harmonize" global spectrum use so that phones around the world can use the same bands, but full harmonization just isn't realistic. Just imagine the complexity of that U.S. spectrum chart at the top, multiplied by every country on the planet, (since each country ultimately manages its own spectrum,) and you'll start to understand how hard it can be to coordinate these things globally.
As a result, there are now 50+ distinct bands defined globally for phone use. Many bands are used in more than one country thanks to harmonization efforts. But each country has a slightly different mix of bands, for various historical reasons.
Some bands overlap, also for historical reasons. For example, band 1 (used in Europe and Asia) overlaps with band 4 (used in the Americas), so a country with band 1 networks cannot have any band 4 networks, or vice-versa. If they did, the overlap means they would interfere.
Other bands overlap because they have expanded. For example, in the U.S., band 25 includes all of band 2, plus the newer PCS "G" block that was added after band 2 was defined. This doesn't necessarily make the two bands incompatible. Most phones that support band 25 can use band 2 networks. But phones do need to support the larger band (25) to access networks using the extra (G) block.
Most "bands" we talk about in this article are actually two bands with a gap in the middle; this is called a "paired" band. The pair consists of one half that is used for towers to transmit to phones, and the other half for phones to transmit to towers. This is called FDD (frequency division duplex). It's the most common way to keep transmissions in one direction from interfering with transmissions in the other direction.
In other words — in the graphic above — phones "listen" on the blue bands, and "talk" on the purple bands. Vice-versa for towers.
However, some bands are not paired; they're just one big, contiguous band. These can be used for one-way transmission, or with a technology called TDD (time division duplex). TDD means that the phone and tower "take turns" transmitting. These "turns" are extremely short and fast (so fast that they're imperceptible to humans).
Frequency is measured in Hertz, which is abbreviated Hz. The whole range of radio spectrum is pretty huge: 10,000 - 300,000,000,000 Hz. The metric system is used to abbreviate that, so 300,000,000,000 Hz would typically be written 300 GHz.
Different frequencies have different natural properties. Lower frequencies travel farther and penetrate solids better (solids such as foliage and buildings, so this is important for indoor coverage), while higher frequencies can carry more information (faster data rates, etc.) The best balance of these properties for the purpose of cell phones is in the range of roughly 600 - 2,600 MHz. (2,600 MHz could also be written 2.6 GHz, since 1 GHz = 1,000 MHz.)
One important thing to note is that some bands (and some blocks within those bands) are larger than others. Larger bands and blocks can handle more users and/or more data. This is measured in band-width. For example, 700 - 710 MHz would be a band that's 10 MHz wide. For a paired band, there are different ways to refer to bandwidth. If it's 5 MHz of bandwidth in each direction, that might be referred to as 10 MHz, 5 + 5 MHz, or 2 x 5 MHz wide.
In addition to different bands, there are different technologies that can be used in those bands. In the U.S, it's generally up to the companies (carriers) that own the licenses to decide which technology to use in which band, (within the limits of FCC rules designed to prevent interference.)
The current technology that dominates mobile networks is LTE, a 4G (4th-generation) technology. Older technologies still in use include WCDMA, CDMA, and GSM.
The combination of a specific technology in a specific band is called a “mode”, and it's usually written as the technology followed by the band number or name, such as “LTE 12” or “CDMA 1900”. When listing all of the modes a phone (or network) supports, it's usually abbreviated like this:
LTE 2 / 4 / 13
CDMA 850 / 1900
Most U.S. carriers operate networks that include multiple technologies and multiple bands. Similarly, most phones support multiple technologies and multiple bands. Traditionally, the phone and network work together to choose one technology — and one band — to use to communicate at any given moment. Newer/better technologies are used whenever possible. Complex rules govern which band is chosen.
Various technologies do allow the simultaneous use of more than one technology and/or band. SVLTE allows the use of CDMA (for voice) at the same time as LTE (for data).
Also, in LTE networks, bands can be virtually joined together to act as one, using technology known as Carrier Aggregation. This is part of an updated version of LTE called LTE Advanced, sometimes abbreviated LTE-A. With carrier aggregation, a phone can make use of multiple bands at the same time to communicate with the network. This opens up more spectrum to the connection, permitting faster data speeds.
The More the Merrier
It's important that your phone supports as many of the bands offered by your carrier's network as possible. That gives the phone more choices to find the best band to use, which varies as you move around, and as network conditions change. You simply won't get the best coverage and service if your phone only supports some of the bands your network offers.
Also, the more bands your phone can access for LTE, the more likely it is that your phone will be able to use carrier aggregation, boosting your data speeds.
Band Numbers and Names
The names and numbers for these bands have evolved over time. The first one set aside for phones in the U.S. was simply called the "cellular" band, because it was the only one used for cellular service at the time. Then as demand grew, the "PCS" band was created.
Names quickly became cumbersome and the industry switched to numbers that approximated the frequencies. The cellular band became the "800" band, because it spanned 824 - 894 MHz. Similarly, the PCS band became the "1900" band because it's 1850 - 1990 MHz.
However, that system also became cumbersome as new bands were created that were very close in frequency, or even overlapped. The U.S. had two different "800" bands, and both were different from an "800" band used in Japan, while Europe was considering a new (and different) "800" band of its own. So a new numbering system debuted with the advent of 3G networks in Europe.
Europe's new band dedicated to 3G was band 1, and existing bands were assigned numbers 2 and up. The new numbers had no correlation to when the bands were created, nor the relative radio frequency. The 800 band became band 5, and the 1900 band became band 2. These band numbers were typically written as roman numerals, so band 5 was more commonly known as band V, for example.
This system worked well until the advent of 4G, when growing demand for mobile data sent governments scrambling to open up new frequencies, and the number of bands skyrocketed to nearly 50 different bands. The numbering system from 3G was kept, but roman numerals were dropped in favor of standard decimal numbers.
The new scheme designated bands 1-32 for paired bands using FDD technology, and higher band numbers for unpaired bands using TDD technology (such as Sprint's band 41). (LTE is available in both FDD and TDD versions.)
However, inevitably, there was demand for additional FDD bands, so now new FDD bands are numbered 65 and higher. That includes bands 66 and 71, which are now used by T-Mobile.
This is an interactive guide. To navigate, click a company logo or band number below to see the relevant bands highlighted in the graphic, and explained in detail below that. Be sure to scroll down to see everything. Finally, some of the bands on the left of the graphic can be clicked to view additional detail.
Verizon operates its 4G LTE network in bands 2, 4, and 13, and a 2G/3G CDMA network in bands 2 and 5.
In the context of CDMA networks like Verizon's, band 2 is also known as 1900, PCS, or BC1; band 5 is also known as 800, 850, Cellular, or BC0.
Verizon launched its 4G LTE network in band 13, later adding band 4, and then band 2. Verizon is the exclusive owner of band 13 in the US. Verizon purchased its band 13 and band 4 spectrum specifically to launch LTE, and has only ever used that technology in those bands. Band 13 (and band 5) are relatively low-frequency, providing good coverage indoors.
When Verizon launched LTE in band 4, they called it XLTE.
Band 2 is used for both CDMA and LTE, while band 5 is still reserved for CDMA. Verizon has committed to keeping its CDMA network going until at least 2020.
Verizon also owns AWS-3 spectrum, which is only covered by band 66. Band 66 also includes all of band 4.
(Cricket is part of AT&T and uses the AT&T network.)
AT&T uses an unusually large number of different bands: 2, 4, 5, 12, 29, and 30. The first four are standard paired bands that are also used by other companies, but bands 29 and 30 are unique.
AT&T uses a mix of old and new technologies in bands 2 and 5, including 2G GSM, 3G WCDMA, and 4G LTE.
Band 2 is also called the 1900 or PCS band. Band 5 is also called the 850 or Cellular band.
The 2G GSM network includes EDGE data service, which is extremely slow by today's standards. The company plans to phase out 2G GSM/EDGE service by the end of 2016, leaving WCDMA and LTE operating in bands 2 and 5.
WCDMA is also sometimes called UMTS, and includes voice as well as HSPA/HSPA+ data services.
AT&T uses bands 4, 12, 29, and 30 exclusively for 4G LTE service.
There's a somewhat complex relationship and history between band 12 and band 17. The two band definitions overlap; band 17 is a subset of band 12. AT&T's license holdings all fit within the narrower band 17, so AT&T initially deployed its LTE network using band 17. However T-Mobile's lower-frequency license holdings are within the part of band 12 that sits outside of band 17. Therefore by using band 17, AT&T made its phones incompatible with T-Mobile's network, even for roaming. Following FCC pressure, AT&T relented and switched to band 12, which made its network and newer phones compatible with T-Mobile. Because band 12 includes all band 17 frequencies, AT&T didn't change any of the actual frequencies it used; the change only affects how phones and the AT&T network negotiate which frequencies to use.
AT&T uses band 29 in an unusual way. It's an unpaired band, and AT&T has it configured exclusively for downlink (tower-to-phone) use. Using a technology called Carrier Aggregation, it works strictly as an "add-on" to other bands, boosting downlink (download) data speeds. For example, a phone might use LTE in bands 4 and 29 at the same time, or bands 2, 29, and 30.
Band 30 is a newer, high-frequency band that AT&T owns exclusively in the U.S. and uses for LTE. It's a paired band.
Band 12 and band 5 are AT&T's main low-frequency bands, providing good indoor coverage.
AT&T also owns AWS-3 spectrum, which is only covered by band 66. Just as band 17 is a subset of band 12, band 4 is a subset of band 66.
(MetroPCS is part of T-Mobile and uses the T-Mobile network.)
T-Mobile operates GSM, WCDMA, and LTE networks, and uses bands 2, 4, 12, 66, and 71.
T-Mobile operates its legacy GSM network (with EDGE data) in band 2. They also use 3G WCDMA (UMTS/HSPA) and 4G LTE in band 2.
T-Mobile acquired band 4 spectrum at FCC auction and deployed 3G WCDMA technology in that band, which was unusual, requiring special phones. Band 4 is also known as AWS, 1700, or 1700/2100.
When it came time to deploy 4G LTE, the company transitioned its 3G network from band 4 to band 2, freeing band 4 for LTE, and making the 3G network compatible with more third-party phones. The new LTE network was launched primarily in band 4.
More recently, T-Mobile acquired spectrum at auction in band 12, and has launched LTE in that band as well, providing low-frequency coverage that works better indoors. T-Mobile calls this Extended Range LTE. T-Mobile didn't have any low-frequency bands before this, so it's a major development for them.
T-Mobile also owns AWS-3 spectrum, which it launched in late 2016. This is band 66. Band 66 also includes all of band 4.
The company's newest band is band 71, also known at the 600 MHz band. Like band 12, it was created by repurposing frequencies previously used for broadcast TV. T-Mobile bought a large number of band 71 licenses in 2016 and started deploying them in 2017. Some TV stations are still using the frequencies, and T-Mobile must work with TV stations on the transition before launching phone service in band 71, in some areas. Because it's a very low-frequency band, it reaches farther in rural areas. T-Mobile is therefore launching band 71 first in rural areas where it is improving T-Mobile's coverage.
(Virgin and Boost are part of Sprint and use the Sprint network.)
Sprint's 4G LTE network uses three main bands: 25, 26, and 41. This is sometimes called tri-band LTE, although Sprint brands it "LTE Plus", and previously, "Sprint Spark". Each of these three bands was previously used for something other than LTE.
Band 25 is near 1900 MHz. It's an enlarged version of the PCS band (band 2). The difference between band 2 and band 25 is the addition of PCS "block G", which belongs exclusively to Sprint in the U.S.. Blocks A-F of the PCS band (which are in both band 2 and band 25) are divided among various carriers, including Sprint, but also Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
Sprint got its start in wireless using the PCS band (band 2) blocks A-F, back when that band was first auctioned off by the government. In fact, the company was originally called Sprint PCS. It deployed CDMA technology in that band and still uses CDMA (since updated to the newer CDMA EVDO Rev. A) in part of that band. In the context of CDMA, band 2 is called BC1 (band class 1), or the 1900 band.
Sprint started its LTE deployment in block G of PCS (which is part of band 25, but not band 2), initially leaving blocks A-F (band 2) for CDMA service. Now they have expanded LTE service into blocks A-F (also part of band 25). The company still operates some CDMA service in those blocks as well.
Band 26 is near 800 MHz. It's a superset of two smaller bands: the cellular band (band 5 / BC0) plus the ESMR bands that were previously used for Nextel's iDEN service. Sprint owns spectrum (inherited from Nextel) in the part that was previously allocated to ESMR/iDEN. (Other carriers operate in the other part, the part that is also band 5.) When phasing out iDEN, Sprint deployed CDMA — and, more recently, LTE — in band 26. For CDMA, this band is also called BC10 or the 800 band. Band 26 provides Sprint's low-frequency service for good coverage indoors.
Band 41 is a band that's unique in several ways. It's very high-frequency, very large, and it's unpaired. It was previously used by Sprint/Nextel and ClearWire for WiMAX service, before Sprint switched to LTE as its 4G technology of choice. Since it's an unpaired paired, Sprint deployed TDD LTE in this band. It's the only band with TDD LTE in the U.S.
Band 2 is also known as the PCS band or 1900 band, because most of it is near 1900 MHz. In the context of CDMA networks, it's also known as BC1 (band class 1).
It is sub-divided into six blocks (A-F). Blocks A-C are three times larger than blocks D-F. These larger blocks can handle more users and/or data.
Like most bands used for phones, band 2 is a paired band, meaning it's actually comprised of two separate but matched parts. The lower-frequency part of the band (1850 - 1910 MHz) is what phones use to transit to towers, while towers transmit to phones on the higher-frequency part (1930 - 1990 MHz).
The original six PCS blocks (A-F) were auctioned off by the FCC and deployed in the late 1990s. The opening of this new spectrum enabled the creation of several all-new US carriers, including Sprint and T-Mobile (then called VoiceStream) at the national level. Existing carriers also purchased some of this spectrum in order to expand capacity.
Today, nearly all U.S. networks use at least some band 2 spectrum, and it's the only band that can be said for.
An additional block (G) was added to the PCS band as part of an agreement between the FCC and Sprint. That is part of band 25, but not band 2.
Carriers have deployed the full variety of digital technologies in band 2, including GSM (EDGE), CDMA (EVDO), WCDMA (UMTS/HSPA), and LTE. As these companies phase out older technologies (like GSM and CDMA), they re-allocate blocks (or portions of blocks) to newer technologies (like 4G LTE.)
Band 4 is also known as the AWS band, or the 1700 band, since half of it is near 1,700 MHz. The other half is near 2,100 MHz, which is why this band is also sometimes called the 1700/2100 band. That sometimes causes confusion, since "2100" is a different band (band 1).
Band 4 is a paired band. Unlike most paired bands, the two halves are quite far apart (very different frequencies.) (They're so far apart that band 2 fits in the gap with plenty of room to spare.) 1710-1755 MHz is the range that phones use to transmit to towers. Towers transmit to phones at 2110-2155 MHz.
It's divided into six blocks (A-F). Blocks A, B, and F are twice as wide/large as blocks C, D, and E. Larger blocks can handle more customers and/or offer higher data speeds. Most of these larger blocks are owned by Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T owns many of the smaller blocks.
Some companies initially deployed CDMA or WCDMA/UMTS in this band. It is now used mostly for 4G LTE service.
Band 4 covers the blocks that were auctioned off as part of the FCC's "AWS-1" auction in 2006. A later auction (AWS-3) added blocks G-J to AWS, which AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile bought a significant number of licenses for. Band 4 only includes blocks A-F, but band 10 includes blocks A-I. Band 10 isn't yet used in the U.S., but may be in the future.
Band 66 includes all of band 4, plus the AWS-3 and AWS-4 frequencies that were auctioned off by the FCC after band 4 was established. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon all own AWS-3 spectrum that can only be utilized by phones supporting band 66.
Band 5 is the oldest band used for phones in the U.S. It was initially called simply the "cellular" band, as it was the only band used for cellular phones at the time. It's also known as the 800, 835, or 850 band, as it spans 824 - 894 MHz. In the context of CDMA networks, it's also called BC0 (band class 0).
Band 5 was initially used with a first-generation analog cellular technology called AMPS. As companies upgraded their networks to 2G (digital), CDMA, GSM, and TDMA technologies were deployed in band 5. Then data was added to these technologies in the form of EDGE, CDMA 1x, and CDMA EVDO. More recently, companies have deployed 3G WCDMA (also called UMTS, and including HSPA data) and 4G LTE in the same band, slowly phasing out older technologies. Nearly every mobile technology created to date has been deployed in band 5 at one time.
Band 5 is divided into just two blocks: A and B. Since band 5 is the oldest, it's owned by the companies that have been around since the beginning, including today's AT&T and Verizon . Some are also owned by regional carrier U.S. Cellular.
AT&T has launched some 4G LTE service in band 5, while Verizon currently reserves band 5 for its older 2G/3G CDMA network.
Band 5 is a paired band. Phones transmit to towers in the range 824 - 849 MHz. Towers transmit at 869 - 894 MHz.
Band 26 includes all of band 5, plus lower frequencies that were previously the ESMR band, which was used by Nextel for iDEN service. Sprint now uses band 26 for CDMA and LTE service, but they only use the newer, lower part on their own network, not the part that overlaps with band 5.
Band 12 is also known as the Lower 700 MHz band, or just the "700" band, as it's near 700 MHz.
Band 12 is one of the lowest-frequency bands used for phones, which means its signals work better indoors, compared to higher-frequency bands.
Band 12 is used by both AT&T and T-Mobile for 4G LTE service. As it's a newer band, it's never been used for older technologies.
Band 12 consists of three blocks: A, B, and C. Each is the same size, offering the same capacity for users and data.
Band 17 is a subset of band 12, consisting only of blocks B and C. AT&T doesn't own any A-block spectrum, but T-Mobile does. AT&T initially deployed its LTE network using band 17, which made its network and phones incompatible with T-Mobile's LTE network. AT&T has since switched to using band 12, which now makes their network (and newer phones) compatible with T-Mobile's network.
Band 12 is a paired band. Phones transmit at 698-716 MHz, while towers transmit at 728 - 746 MHz.
Bands 12, 29, and 13 occupy the frequencies previously used for analog TV channels 52-69.
As the FCC continues to consolidate over-the-air TV broadcasts to lower frequencies, a new band is being created below 698 Mhz, in the space previously occupied by channels 30-51. In 2016, the FCC is conducting auction 1001, creating this large new "600 MHz" band spanning 575 - 698 MHz, consisting of ten small, paired blocks. The band number covering these frequencies has yet to be defined.
Band 13 is also known as the Upper 700 MHz band, or the 750 band. Technically, band 13 is just one part (block C) of the Upper 700 MHz band, but the other blocks are not currently used for consumer phone service.
Verizon is the exclusive owner of block C nationwide, and therefore the only user of band 13 in the U.S.. A small handful of countries elsewhere in the Americas also have band 13 networks.
Verizon used band 13 to launch its 4G LTE network in the U.S., and still uses band 13 exclusively for LTE.
Band 13 is among the lowest-frequency bands used for phones, which means its signals work better indoors, compared to higher-frequency bands.
Band 13 is a paired band. Unlike most paired bands, the uplink band is a higher frequency than the downlink band. Therefore, phones transmit at 776 - 787 MHz, while towers transmit at 746-757 MHz.
Band 14 sits just above band 13, and is reserved for first-responders. FirstNet — a government agency — oversees the LTE network in this band. Band 14 is also a paired band where towers transmit at lower frequencies.
Band 17 is a subset of band 12. It was used by AT&T in its initial deployment of LTE, but AT&T has since migrated to using the band 12 definition for the same frequencies.
Band 12 is part of the Lower 700 Mhz band, which includes blocks A, B, and C. Band 17 consists only of blocks B and C, while band 12 covers all three blocks. AT&T doesn't own any A-block spectrum, but T-Mobile does. AT&T initially deployed its LTE network using band 17, which made its network and phones incompatible with T-Mobile's LTE network. AT&T has since switched to using band 12, which now makes their network (and newer phones) compatible with T-Mobile's network.
For more on this band, see band 12.
Band 25 is a superset of band 2. It includes all of band 2 (the original PCS / 1900 band), plus the newer block G that has been added to PCS.
Sprint is the exclusive owner of block G, and therefore the primary user of band 25. They received block G from the FCC in exchange for giving up its claim to some 800 MHz frequencies which are now used for public safety users (police and fire departments, etc.)
Sprint uses band 25 for 4G LTE service. The part that overlaps with band 2 is also used for some CDMA service.
Band 25, like band 2, is a paired band. Phones transmit at 1850 - 1915 MHz, while towers transmit at 1930 - 1995 MHz.
For more on this band, see band 2.
Band 26 is a superset of band 5. It includes both the original cellular band (band 5 / 850 band) and the lower ESMR frequencies that were previously used by Nextel for its iDEN network.
Sprint technically doesn't use the part of band 26 that overlaps with band 5 in its own network. But they do use the lower part of band 26 for 4G LTE service.
For 2G/3G CDMA service, other terms are used to describe this band. The upper part of band 26 (the part that is band 5) is also called Cellular, 850, or BC0. The lower frequencies of band 26 (that sit outside/below band 5) are called 800 or BC10.
Sprint operates some CDMA service in 800 / BC10, and its phones are compatible with 850 / BC0 for roaming on other CDMA networks.
Like band 5, band 26 is a paired band. Phones transmit at 814-849 MHz, while towers transmit at 859 - 894 MHz.
For more on this band, see band 5.
Band 29 is part of the Lower 700 MHz band as defined by the FCC. Specifically, band 29 is blocks D and E of the Lower 700 band. That puts it right between the two halves of band 12 (and band 17).
Band 29 is owned exclusively by AT&T in the U.S.
Band 29 is a rare unpaired band. Even more rare, AT&T uses it for downlink-only service. That means data can only travel from towers to phones in this band; phones are not allowed to transmit at these frequencies. If it were used on its own, it would be practically useless for phone service, as the phone couldn't even request a web page to download (for example.) But AT&T is using band 29 in conjunction with other bands, using a technology known as Carrier Aggregation. In this configuration, another band (or bands) is the primary band, while band 29 provides extra capacity to speed up downlink (download) data.
Band 29 spans 716 - 728 MHz.
Band 30 is also known as the WCS band, 2.3 GHz band, or 2300 band.
WCS — as defined by the FCC — includes two paired blocks (A and B) and two unpaired blocks (C and D). Band 30 covers the two paired blocks (A and B). Phones transmit at 2305 - 2315 MHz, while towers transmit at 2350 - 2360 MHz.
As a relatively high-frequency band, it does not work as well indoors as lower-frequency bands.
AT&T essentially owns all of band 30 (plus WCS blocks C and D) nationwide. AT&T uses band 30 for 4G LTE service.
In the gap between the two halves of band 30 lies the frequencies used by Sirius XM for satellite radio. The FCC arbitrated a lengthy dispute over potential interference, because the bands are so close in frequency. That dispute was eventually resolved, clearing the way for AT&T to finally launch 4G LTE in band 30.
Band 41 is also known as the BRS/EBS band. These frequencies were previously set aside for "wireless cable" digital video and data service.
Now Sprint owns most of these frequencies and uses them for 4G LTE service.
Band 41 is unpaired spectrum, meaning there's just one big section that must be shared by both phones and towers to transmit. (Most other bands are paired.) To avoid interference, band 41 is configured for TDD (time division duplex) service, meaning phones and towers "take turns" transmitting.
Band 41 covers the range 2496 - 2690 MHz, making it the highest-frequency band currently in use for phones in the United States. (Although ) The high frequency means this band doesn't work as well indoors as other bands.
In many other countries (including Canada), these same frequencies are arranged as a paired band called band 7.
Band 66 is also known as AWS.
Band 66 includes all of band 4 (AWS blocks A-F), plus AWS-3 (blocks G-J) and AWS-4.
As one of the newest bands, it's used exclusively for newer technologies such as LTE, a 4G technology.
T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon all own some AWS-3 spectrum. Phones must support band 66 in order to use this newer AWS-3 spectrum. However phones with band 66 automatically support band 4 networks as well. T-Mobile was the first to utilize AWS-3 frequencies on its network and launch a phone with band 66 to support this. AT&T and Verizon are expected to follow.
The AWS-1 (band 4) and AWS-3 parts of band 66 are standard paired spectrum. However, band 66 also includes AWS-4, which is unpaired.
AWS-4 is owned by Dish. Band 66 is set up so that AWS-4 — an unpaired band — would exclusively provide extra downlink (download) capacity using carrier aggregation technology. That makes band 66 unique in that it includes both paired and unpaired blocks. That also means that band 66, as a whole, can be asymmetric, providing more spectrum for downlink than for uplink; that is also unique.
Band 71 is near 600 MHz and is one of the newest bands in the U.S., having been auctioned off in 2016-2017.
As a newer band, it is used exclusively for newer technologies such as LTE.
In the U.S., T-Mobile owns the most amount of spectrum in this band, and started launching service in this band in late 2017.
This band is a lower radio frequency than most other bands used for mobile phones. Lower frequencies travel farther and penetrate solids better than higher frequencies. Therefore this band should provide superior service in rural areas and inside buildings.
The band covers the range of 617 - 698 MHz. It's a paired band, so 617 - 652 MHz is for towers to transmit to mobile devices (downlink), while 663 - 698 MHz is for mobile devices to transmit to towers (uplink).
The band is divided into seven equal-size blocks (A-G). Each block is 10 MHz wide, consisting of 5 MHz for uplink + 5 MHz for downlink.
The band was previously used for UHF TV channels 38 - 51. In 2017, the FCC concluded a unique type of auction — called a reverse auction or incentive auction — that managed the process of TV stations selling the spectrum to mobile network operators, and relocating TV channels that were previously using the band.
All information current as of October 2017.
T-Mobile Says It Will Start Using 600 MHz Spectrum This Year
Apr 13, 2017
"T-Mobile now has the largest swath of unused low-band spectrum in the country," said T-Mobile CEO John Legere about the company's 600 MHz auction winnings. The company successfully won an average of 31 MHz (ranging between 20 MHz and 50 MHz) of the 70 MHz low-band spectrum auctioned off by TV stations and the FCC.
T-Mobile to Deploy 5G On 600 MHz Spectrum Starting in 2019
May 2, 2017
T-Mobile today said it plans to use some of its recently acquired 600 MHz spectrum to support a future 5G network. The company successfully won an average of 31 MHz (ranging between 20 MHz and 50 MHz) of the 70 MHz low-band spectrum auctioned off by TV stations and the FCC earlier this year.
3GPP Approves Band 66 for AWS Support
Dec 10, 2015
Dish Networks today said the 3GPP has approved the designation of Band 66, which encompasses a significant swath of AWS spectrum owned by Dish. Specifically, Band 66 pairs 70 MHz of uplink spectrum with 90 MHz of downlink spectrum in the AWS-1, AWS-3, and AWS-4 bands.
T-Mobile to Light Up 600 MHz LTE This Summer
Jun 15, 2017
T-Mobile today said it plans to begin testing its newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum as soon as this summer. The FCC granted licenses for the spectrum this week following the years-long incentive auction process.