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It’s a great time of the year to pick up some of the best mobile phones of 2014 as manufacturers are rolling out their latest designs in time for shopping season; but before you purchase there’s one spec to take note of, especially if you value Internet speeds. You probably know that many carriers (particularly in America) restrict phones so they can’t be used internationally. Fortunately it’s not very difficult to learn how to unlock a mobile phone, however there’s another, more subtle restriction to be aware of before buying or choosing a new carrier.

What Is LTE?

LTE stands for “long-term evolution” and is basically the next generation of mobile Internet. You know 3G? Well, this is 4G – at least one version of it as the definition is murky. For practical purposes though, LTE is the global standard for 4G, which has wide coverage in the United States and growing around the world.

There are a number of advantages of LTE, notably download speeds 4-10 times faster than 3G, and most new phones have an LTE antenna to support it. However, LTE is broken up for use among a number of frequency bands and not every phone antenna can use all of the bands. Typically, specific bands are used in differing global regions so if your phone doesn’t support say, bands 3, 5, or 7, you’ll miss out on LTE speeds in much of Europe.

Same Phone, Many Models

Both due to cost and carrier pressure, most phones don’t have a global assortment of LTE bands enabled. (Although the iPhone 6 comes pretty close.) Carriers get variations of the same phone model which means AT&T’s HTC One M8 supports different LTE bands than Verizon’s. For local customers, that’s generally not an issue, as the phone will likely have LTE support in your country (and wider continental region) but when you go abroad no 4G for you.

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What To Look For

It might take a bit of spec digging to find the best banded phone for your specific travels but the more bands the better.

lte use by country

  • Travelers From The Americas: Look for bands 3, 5, 7 (primarily for use in Europe some coverage globally)
  • Travelers To The Americas: Mostly bands 2, 4, 17
  • Australia/New Zealand: 3, 5, 20, 28, 40

This is a very spartan list since there are a lot of bands used by different carriers around the world. It’s best to check here to confirm which LTE bands international carriers use to find out where you’ll get service.

How To Get The Best Coverage

Well, you could get an new iPhone. Alternatively you can buy the unlocked carrier-free version of any mobile, generally they’ve got more bands than carrier-specific models. It’s best to check manufacturer’s spec sheets or simply contact them (or a carrier representative) to find out what LTE bands are available on a given phone model.

Remember, not having LTE doesn’t mean you can’t talk, use good ol’ 3G abroad to sext securely while traveling or turn your mobile into a digital camera replacement; just that your phone will miss out on faster Internet speeds where LTE is available.

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