These days, I get at least 50 new emails everyday asking me about typical questions on buying 4G Smartphone or 4G in India. Most of time, I find users are asking me which phone to buy, or what if we buy some phone or what will happen if I move out of 4G coverage etc. Therefore, here are answers to few of the most commonly asked questions on 4G or 4G Smartphones.
Which phone should I choose for 4G? – This is perhaps the most common question readers are asking. I should say it depends. Had you ask me the same question last year, there were only few choices, but now, starting from 2015, you could see hundreds of Smartphone brands have launched series of 4G Smartphones in India and number is growing every day.
In India, as on today, Bharti Airtel is the only 4G Service provider, operating services in 2300 MHz and 1800 MHz band. Let us say you are staying in Gurgaon or New Delhi. Bharti has launched its 4G services in 2300 MHz 4G band. If you move to Mumbai, it’s same. However, if you move to some other place in India, Bharti’s 4G services are operational only in 1800 MHz. It would not be surprising that some of the places, you can avail 4G services in both 2300 and 1800 MHz bands. Therefore, it actually depends on where you are staying. Still, you can easily roam on 4G from same operator across various cities in India.
Now question comes, then should I first know which service provider has lunched 4G services in my area and which band is operational, before buying 4G Smartphone? Answer is yes and no. You really do not have to worry about frequency band details as such. Service provider, yes you need to be aware of it at least. Typically, India will have 1800 MHz, which is FDD-LTE Band 3 and 2300 MHz, which is TDD-LTE Band 40, 4G services. Some of the new entrants, including Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Idea Cellular are planning to launch services in both or either of these bands, depending on spectrum, they hold. Therefore, it would be better to buy Smartphone, which supports Band 3 and Band 40 4G-LTE. E.g. iPhone 5S onwards is good example of the phone, which supports both the 4G bands in India. Lenovo A6000 series phones do also support both 4G bands.
Typically, if you are buying 4G Smartphone, just check frequency bands it supports and ensure that it supports both band 3 and band 40, 4G-LTE. If it does support 800 MHz band 4G, that would be plus.
Can I use 3G, in LTE SIM, if LTE (4G) is not available? – Yes- you can. Your 4G phone would automatically latch on to either 3G or 2G network, depending on availability of network, if you move away from 4G network coverage areas. In fact, most of time, for few more years, you would find that 4G services would be spotty across India (even across globe) and as most of the telecom operators are launching 4G services, on top of their 3G/2G Network, expect backward compatibility without any issues.
Can I make Phone calls in 4G from my new 4G Smartphone? –Yes- you can. There is nothing in network, which stops you from making Phone calls, even if your phone is latch onto 4G Network. Now question is how it happens, as 4G is just ‘Data only’ technology.
Answer to that question is little complex. In India, as on today, no operator offers 4G Voice services, also called as ‘Voice over LTE or VoLTE’. In VoLTE, if you in 4G service area, your phone would make 4G calls, which are typically HD Voice services and offers far better calling quality than existing 2G or 3G calling. These services are getting rolled out in some countries across globe, including Singapore, South Korea or even in US, operators including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offers VoLTE in some cities, but not nationwide. There are various variants of VoLTE, and pure VoLTE is rare to find, except above exceptions.
Now in India, let’s say you are on Bharti Airtel’s 4G Network and dial number to call your friend. Typically, network would hand-over your call to either 3G or 2G at the same place, depending on the availability of 3G/2G network in your area. Therefore, you would make regular 3G or even 2G phone calls and the moment you are done, you will move back to 4G, automatically. Normally process of handover from 4G to 3G to back to 4G is smooth, but sometime if it does not happen smoothly, you will be automatically redirect to 4G in few seconds after finishing of call, if you are still in 4G coverage area.
If I buy some 4G Phone in India and move to some other place (outside India), would I be able to use 4G on my same phone? – Answer is yes and no and not easy to understand at first place. Reason being, globally, there are, as per 3GPP Standard, 40 different frequency bands in which operators can launch 4G services. Although not all 4G bands are operational everywhere, depending from country to country and availability of frequency band in that region, you would find roaming on 4G has become quite complex challenge of modern times. This problem was not there in 2G or even in 3G, as we had uniform frequency allocations across globe, but starting 4G era, unfortunately, this is not the case.
For example, if you have bought 4G Phone in India, which supports Band 3 and Band 40 here, and moved to Singapore, which has 4G services launched on some different frequency band, your phone would be latched on to 3G, but not 4G. So be prepared to some surprises.
Now there are certain phones, which support good number of 4G bands across globe. Remember, I said, when there are at least 40 4G different frequencies, no single phone supports all 4G frequencies. Apple’s iPhone and LG G series phones are the best in my observation, which supports highest number of 4G bands across different countries. So if you have iPhone 5S/6/6S (some models in that are country specific also), chances are high that, even if you buy it in India, you can still use it somewhere else too. You need to insert 4G SIM from the local operator.
I bought certain phone, which supports Band 3 and Band 40 in India. Now I moved to some place, which has Band 3 or Band 40 4G services, but my phone didn’t latch on to 4G services, why?- That’s exactly I was talking earlier about complexities in 4G-LTE roaming across globe. Some of the underlying issues in roaming are quite complex to understand and sometimes, in my observation are either device related issues or even network barring in place by local operators.
The situation is very common and do not worry too much about it. Most of the time, even though your phone, although supports 4G frequency bands in roaming country, mightn’t latch on to 4G at all. This happens, even if you have local 4G SIM placed in your smartphone. Typically, this happens due to IMEI or Equipment barring by local operators, though there are some exceptions too. Therefore, there are so many variants of same phones across globe and every variant of phone built for specific country. Samsung Galaxy S5 is best example of this.
Samsung Galaxy S5 has at least 10+ different variants by same name. Therefore, India’s S5 is not same as S5 in Hong-Kong or Japan or even in some other country. What is the difference then? Samsung is quite smart company indeed. It has launched different models of same brand phones globally, each supporting different 4G bands. In India, if you have bought S5, which is S5-G 900H, it does not support 4G at all. It just supports 3G or HSPA. However, if you are in Australia, and bought S5 phone on Optus or Telstra, which is S5-G900I model, it can use 4G and interestingly supports 4G in India.
To cut long story short, you may be surprised to see 4G roaming does not work seamlessly across globe, barring some exceptions.
I bought 4G Phone in India and my city has 4G Network. I recently bought 4G SIM also, but still my phone does not show 4G-why? – As I said in answer to first question, India has two different variants or flavors of 4G, namely, FDD-LTE, which is operational in 1800 MHz band (Band 3) and TDD-LTE, which is operational in 2300 MHz band (Band 40). Majority of 4G Smartphones launched in India do support these two 4G bands, but some of them support only 1800 MHz.
Now if you go by stats, 1800 MHz is the most common 4G supported band by majority of 4G Smartphones in India, followed by 850 MHz, although we do not have any operational network in 850 MHz yet. Some smartphones support all 3 4G bands, 850, 1800 and 2300 MHz, but these are few in number.
Therefore, if you have 4G Smartphone with you, and facing above issue, chances are that your phone does not support all 4G bands in India. Some of the Google Nexus users are complaining about it, as Nexus supports only 1800 MHz, but not 2300 MHz 4G, and if your area has 2300 MHz 4G, you won’t be able to access 4G from your phone.
How long would my 4G Smartphone investment be safe? – I should say not for long, if you are buying low-end 4G Smartphone. By low-end, I mean, below 20k price mostly. There are reasons to this statement.
Typically, most of low-end 4G Smartphones, although supporting 4G bands in India, don’t support some fancy advance features, which would be main-stream in next 2 years. VoLTE is one example of it. Most of 4G Smartphones do not support HD Voice or pure VoLTE calls at all. So tomorrow, some operator in India is going to launch 4G HD Voice services, chances are high that your regular low-end 4G Smartphone, although can avail 4G data services, won’t be in position to make 4G calling. Another interesting thing coming is LTE-Advance or 4G+ services, where your Smartphone can combine TDD and FDD LTE Bands, and can offer very high data rates.
Although India does not have devices bundling very common for 4G, some of the new operators might be bundling their 4G services with 4G Smartphones. You can avail those offers. Only problem with the offer is that, you are stuck to the operator for the contract period, which is not that good.
There are few more questions, but I would try to include it in my next blog. If you have more questions, do share comment below or send me email at atuldeshpande [at] telecomblogs.in.