4G Frequencies: Getting the smartphone and the operator right - Tips

To really enjoy the 4G, it is necessary that the frequencies available on a smartphone correspond to those used by the chosen operator. Explanations.

Pending the advent of the 5G, which promises all kinds of wonders with speeds worthy of the optical fiber, it is the 4G which is massively used by the operators to exchange data with mobiles, giving particular access to Internet, and to all online services.

Frequency stories

However, it's not enough to have a high-end smartphone to take full advantage of this technology. Indeed, the 4G LTE used in Europe operates several frequency bands (carriers, in the jargon of communications). In France, five frequency bands are authorized by the authorities: B28 (700 MHz), B20 (800 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz), B1 (2100 MHz) and B7 (2600 MHz). Without going into technical details, and for simplicity, the lower the frequency used, the more the signal carries far and the better it crosses the walls of houses. This is the reason why operators have been using the B28 and B20 bands for some time now, in order to cover rural areas more easily.

But the important thing is not there: in fact, it is not the users who choose the exploited bands, but the operators. And all do not have the same priorities, for reasons that are at the same time technical, economic and historical, as we can see in the table below summarizing the number of 4G antennas in service in France according to operators and frequencies. Thus, Free Mobile uses only three bands out of five: essentially the B3 t the B7, and the B28 - it is even the most advanced on this frequency - while SFR exploits much the B3 and the B20, a little less the B1 and the B7, and almost not the B28.

Number of 4G antennas in use at operators in mainland France

(source: ANFR - August 2019)

700 MHz (B28) 800 MHz (B20) 1800 MHz (B3) 2100 MHz (B1) 2600 MHz (B7)
Bouygues Telecom +1 121 XNUMX +16 564 XNUMX +10 542 XNUMX +2 668 XNUMX +5 113 XNUMX
free mobile +7 471 XNUMX 0 +12 261 XNUMX 0 +12 565 XNUMX
Orange 315 +17 216 XNUMX +12 815 XNUMX +6 877 XNUMX +9 218 XNUMX
SFR 15 +17 384 XNUMX +11 858 XNUMX +5 245 XNUMX +6 671 XNUMX

Check the compatibility of a smartphone

Or all smartphones stamped 4G are not compatible with all frequencies. This is particularly the case for imported models from China, which often only handle the highest bands (B1, B3 and B7). Admittedly, major brands have followed the evolution of frequencies and almost all recent smartphones manage the five French bands. But older models, especially those found on the second-hand market, can pose problems with some operators. It is therefore important to associate smartphone and operator by checking compatible frequencies.

For this we can use a site like Kimovil, which allows to know all the technical characteristics of any smartphone - even very rare models - and therefore to check the compatibility of the frequencies.

For example, a Samsung Galaxy S9 - a recent high-end model - handles well the five 4G French bands, so a Xiaomi Redmi 6A - a recent entry-level mobile - recognizes only four, just like a Huawei P30 Lite. Depending on the chosen operator, you will have access to the 4G completely or only partially ...

Know the location of 4G antennas

In addition, to ensure optimal comfort in the daily use of the 4G, it is also important to know the location of antennas in a given area. We can be sure that everything is going well in the dense areas - the large agglomerations - where all the operators are well established with many antennas generally offering all the frequencies: whatever the smartphone and the operator, we have the guarantee of have 4G. But it is different in rural areas where pylons are more rare, with more territory to cover. Especially since, again, they are not all compatible with all frequencies 4G.

To verify the location of the operators and to know the precise characteristics of each antenna, it is advisable to consult specialized sites like Mobile Antennas ou the observatory of the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) which indicate on interactive maps the precise position of the antennas for each operator, with the frequencies used.

We can see that there are still huge differences depending on the location and the operator depending on the smartphone used, a model a little old - two or three years - that can perfectly receive 4G in the city but get stuck in 3G in certain areas.

Eventually, in a few years, the question will not arise because the whole territory should be covered in 4G - following an agreement between the operators and the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Posts (Arcep) - and all smartphones in circulation will manage the five frequency bands. But this is not yet the case, hence the benefit of checking the mobile-operator compatibility before changing models or packages ...

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