LTE Networks and What They Mean for World Travelers

LTE Networks and What They Mean for World Travelers

Joelle Alcaidinho
Sep 19, 2012

As someone who travels frequently, with a partner that travels even more than I do, the issue of which smartphone hardware to buy has become a tricky one with the advent of LTE. In the olden days, pre-LTE, for the most part phone choices were CDMA or GSM, and we would opt for the GSM every time, as that was the one that worked for almost every country we traveled to. Now, thanks to LTE, that decision is not so clear cut…

It probably comes as a surprise to no one that there is not a single global standard for LTE — often in the same country multiple bands are used by different carriers, which makes figuring out which you need even more tricky. Having a chart which breaks down bands by country is helpful (I've been checking with the one above from Apple frequently), as is a list of what is being used where when it comes to LTE. So how do you figure out if the phone you're coveting will work where you need it to work?

1. Where do you plan on using your phone? Do a little research and learn what bands are being used by the carriers you have in mind, and how these match up with the bands in use in the places you plan on traveling to.

2. 4G, 3G, Edge? If there is no LTE right now where you are planning on using the phone, figure out what coverage is like and make sure the phone you are looking at is capable of those frequencies for higher data speeds. You don't want to, gasp, be stuck with Edge, now do you?

3. How long do you plan on keeping the phone? LTE rollouts are happening now, and there will be even more within the next two years. If you plan on keeping your phone for a year or longer, learn what bands your carrier is looking to use in their next rollout to future-proof your fancy new smartphone purchase as best you can.

After following the above advice, I've come to realise that for the first time in a long time the right version of the phone I'm currently coveting might not be the one sold as GSM unlocked. As someone who always buys their phones unlocked, this is a tough pill to swallow, but based on how many LTE bands the CDMA/GSM version of the iPhone 5 (A1429) has, that is going to be the best choice for using LTE in the US and abroad. This phone coupled with Verizon's unlock policy means that when traveling I can still use the Tru and Telstra sims, and avoid crazy international data roaming while acquiring a handset that will also work for the LTE bands in the US.

The version that is touted as the global iPhone 5, the one that is sold outside the US unlocked (also called A1429), does not have CDMA and has fewer LTE bands, none of which match the bands that the GSM carriers in the US use. The version sold here by AT&T and the one which will be sold as unlocked in the US (A1428) does not cover the LTE bands used outside the US.

While I'm not keen to sign a new two year contract, I also don't want to have an LTE phone that only works in the US, nor do I want one that doesn't work in the US at all. With LTE only becoming more important, not having it is something I'm not willing to consider when spending money on a phone that I'd like to keep around for some time. While thinking through and doing legwork has helped to figure out which iPhone 5 works best for me, I still hold out hope that the ideal handset with every band I seek is out there, unlocked (and with an awesome camera), just waiting for me.

Do data standards factor into your smartphone purchases?

(Image: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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