United Kingdom

Mobile networks and carriers in United Kingdom use 2 GSM bands, 2 UMTS bands, and 4 LTE bands.

Frequency band introduction

2G capabilities GSM 900, GSM 1800

3G capabilities UMTS 900, UMTS 2100

4G capabilities LTE 800, LTE 1800, LTE 2600

2G, first introduced in 1992, is the second-generation of cellular telephone technology and the first to use digital encryption of conversations. 2G networks were the first to offer data services and SMS text messaging, but their data transfer rates are lower than those of their successors.

3G networks succeed 2G ones, offering faster data transfer rates and are the first to enable video calls. This makes them especially suitable for use in modern smartphones, which require constant high-speed internet connection for many of their applications.

4G is the fourth generation of mobile phone communications standards. It is a successor of the 3G and provides ultra-broadband internet access for mobile devices. The high data transfer rates make 4G networks suitable for use in USB wireless modems for laptops and even home internet access.

2G in UK

GSM900 uses the radio frequency range 890-915 MHz for receive and 935-960 MHz for transmit. RF carriers are spaced every 200 kHz, allowing a total of 124 carriers for use. DCS1800 uses the radio frequency range 1710-1785 MHz for receive and 1805-1880 MHz for transmit. RF carriers are spaced every 200 kHz, allowing a total of 373 carriers for use (one used as a guard band).

3G in UK

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) was the Third Generation (3G) of mobile communications, providing mobile users with interactive multimedia capabilities at higher data rates than for 2G. Improvements in coding and data compression technology provided better speech quality and faster data transmission.

Licences for 3G services on the UK mainland were awarded by an auction process in April 2000, for a fixed period until 31 December 2021. Following a Government Direction to Ofcom and subsequent consultation in 2011, the licences now continue indefinitely and will be subject to annual fee payments after 2021. There are four UK operators: Telefónica UK (O2), EE (formerly T-Mobile and Orange), Vodafone and 3 (Hutchison 3G UK Limited), operating in the 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz bands.

4G in UK

In the UK there are three different 4G LTE frequencies in use: 800 MHz, 1800 MHz (1.8 GHz) and 2600 MHz (2.6 GHz). Two of these – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. 4G is the latest standard for sending and receiving data on mobile networks, and has the benefit of being significantly faster than the 3G networks that came before it. In the UK, it's been available since EE launched the country's first 4G network in late 2012. All four major UK network operators now offer 4G coverage of some sort.

800MHz frequency band
The 800MHz frequency band is one of two which was auctioned by Ofcom in February of 2013. Previously this band was used to provide analogue television signals, but since TV’s switched over to digital it was freed up to be used with 4G.

The lower the frequency of the band the further it can travel, so the 800MHz band is the most adept of the three at travelling over long distances, which means users can get a 4G signal even when they’re a long way from a mast. This becomes particularly useful in rural areas where masts are likely to be quite spread out.

However, it also has some advantages in cities, because low frequencies are also good at passing through walls and other physical objects. So the 800MHz band is good for indoor coverage and for heavily built up areas where a signal might otherwise struggle to travel.

On the other hand it has a comparatively low capacity, as it was only available in small 5 and 10MHz blocks, which means that it can’t always deal brilliantly with lots of people trying to connect at once, particularly if they’re carrying out demanding actions such as streaming HD video. So even in places with a good connection it may not always deliver consistent speeds, especially in urban areas where there’s likely to be a lot of data traffic.

2.6GHz frequency band
The 2.6GHz band is the other frequency which was auctioned by Ofcom and it’s essentially the opposite of the 800MHz band. So it’s not great at travelling over long distances, meaning that masts need to be closer together to deliver reliable coverage and as such it’s not so suited to rural areas.

It’s also not all that adept at penetrating walls so indoor signal on the 2.6GHz band won’t always be perfect.

But on the other hand with 35MHz blocks available it has a high capacity. So it can cope with thousands of simultaneous connections, which in that sense makes it a good fit for cities and other busy areas.

1.8GHz frequency band
Unlike the other two frequencies the 1.8GHz one wasn’t auctioned, instead it’s a frequency band which EE already had access to and which now Three does too. As you might have guessed, the 1.8GHz band falls somewhere in the middle of the other two.