In recent times, we have seen a rise in the number of people who complain about buying a mobile phone for use while travelling to the USA, but on getting there, the phone is useless for making voice calls, as it is incompatible with the GSM networks there. So, if you plan on using a mobile phone in the USA, here is a quick guide to help you figure out what to look out for.
Using a mobile phone in the USA
Mobile phones are designed to work with a range of different radio frequency bands. Do not let the terminology confuse you. We will explain it all in an easy to remember manner.
In most countries of the world, GSM phones operate on the 900 Mhz and 1800 MHz bands. This applies to Europe, Africa and Asia. As such, most mobile networks and phones operate on these two bands. Don’t forget the figures: 900 and 1800.
In the USA, things are different from how they run in most of the rest of the world. US GSM networks/carriers operate on different bands from what you may be used to: bands 850 and 1900 MHz. As such, you need to get a GSM mobile phone that supports 850 and 1900 if you will be using a mobile phone in the USA. Note the two figures: 850 and 1900. See the red lines in the image below:
If you check the specifications sheets or sales packs of mobile phones, you will find the supported frequency bands of the phone listed like that. You can always use Mobility Arena’s specifications listings to check if a mobile phone will work in the USA.
You can check if your current phone is USA-compatible by using the search box at the top of this page. Enter the name of your phone and add “specifications”behind it, e.g. “Infinix Hot 4 Specifications”. It will fish out the Infinix Hot 4 specifications page for you. The supported frequency bands are the first items on each phone’s specifications page.
Travelling To The USA
If you intend to travel to the USA for work or relaxation and want to carry only one mobile phone, you will need one that supports all four (4) bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900. That way, when you arrive in the United States, you can just pop-in a SIM card obtained from a network there in your phone and you will be good.
If your current phone does not support 850 and 1900 Mhz bands and you do not mind carrying two phones, you can buy a second phone that supports those bands for use when you travel there.
Check When Shopping
When shopping for a mobile phone that you intend to use while in the USA, please ask about the bands that the phone supports. Beyond asking, if you check the sales pack, you will find the supported bands listed there (usually on the back). If the sales pack does not list GSM 850 and 1900, the mobile phone will not work in the USA.
Do not forget this: if you plan on using a mobile phone in the USA during your trip, you have to make sure that the phone supports the 850 MHz and 1900 Mhz GSM bands.
Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.