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Tower upgrades no longer support unlocked phones (T-Mobile false advertising)


In my area T-Mobile upgraded the towers in May 2017. Ever since the upgrade my 3 unlocked phones only get a maximum speed of 2G. That's technically a downgrade because I used to get 3G and 4G fine for over 5 years. I know it's the tower upgrade because if I drive 40 minutes away I get 4G in areas with old tower technology. I am not happy at all because T-Mobile told me they can't explain why my phones stopped getting speeds higher than 2G in my area. My phones support all the bands and technology required to run on the T-Mobile network. They advertise it should work but it doesn't work so I am getting fed up with T-Mobile. T-Mobile tech support finally gave up and said I need to replace all 3 unlocked phones with T-Mobile branded phones to get 4G again. So T-Mobile is false advertising by saying unlocked phones with the bands they list will get 3G/4G.

 

Does anyone know why T-Mobile decided to stop supporting unlocked phones? I don't understand the reason for doing this, upgrades are supposed to be backwards compatible.

 

I have pretty new phones which are the Samsung A3 2016 and I am using the latest APN T-Mobile told me to use. I am wondering if anyone has had the Samsung A3 2017 get 4G on the new tower upgrade? I don't like the T-Mobile branded Samsung phones because I find them too heavy and large.

 

Thanks

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Best answer by drnewcomb2 25 May 2017, 17:49

sherbert wrote:

I believe what you are saying is T-Mobile used to support “UMTS” but T-Mobile is dropping UMTS support so the new tower upgrades only support LTE which is why mine isn’t working anymore. My phones support the bands for UMTS but not LTE.

I actually have the 2016 version which is SM-A310F. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn24x/samsung-sm-a310f-galaxy-a3-2016-td-lte

If I'm following this correctly that means if I buy the “A320Y” version it will work. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn28R/samsung-sm-a320y-ds-galaxy-a3-2017-duos-td-lte

So this means I have to make sure an unlocked phone has band 2 and 4 for “LTE”. My problem is T-Mobile no longer supports UMTS not that they are unlocked.

T-Mobile should make that clearer on this page, it’s unclear right now that those bands have to be LTE and that UMTS is no longer supported starting 2017.

https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-1265

Thanks for the help

First off, HSPA & HSPA+ are extensions of the UMTS standard for higher speed data. AFAIK, a phone that has UMTS will still work on an HSPA(+) network. HSPA+ is what T-Mobile calls "4G" but is really 3.5G.

The specs you point to for the SM-A310F clearly show that it's a primarily Euro-Asian version, not really intended for use in North America. The US UMTS bands it supports are 2 & 5. AFAIK, T-Mobile does not have any UMTS band-5,  so only band-2 will be applicable.

The only US LTE band it supports is band-5. T-Mobile has band-5 LTE in exactly one market: Myrtle Beach, SC.  So, this phone is very marginal for use with T-Mobile (USA). It would probably work better on AT&T or one of their MVNOs (e.g. Cricket) as they have extensive UMTS band-5 & 2.

The A320Y would be a decent phone for T-Mobile. I would not turn it down if someone gave me one. But as for buying it now, it lacks LTE band-12, which is T-Mobile's only current low-band frequency, providing extended range and building "penetration". In the future, you'll want to look for a phone with band-71, which will be T-Mobile's new low-band addition, greatly increasing in-building and rural service possibilities.

Anyway, T-Mobile is currently maintaining support for HSPA+/UMTS in markets where it's been in service, but reserves the right to change bands or reduce the amount of spectrum allocated to (depreciate) that service. At least I have not heard of them shutting down HSPA+/UMTS in any existing market. They very seldom install HSPA+ (or GSM) in any new markets. All new coverage in N & S Dakota seems to be LTE. The only HSPA+ in all of the new N. Mich. coverage is in Traverse City (AFAIK).

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Userlevel 7

Which A3 models do you have, A320F/FL or A320Y? It would also help to know where you're located.

I don't think T-Mobile is picking on you because you have an unlocked phone. They may be rearranging their bands in your market.

The A320F/FL does not have band-4 LTE, which may be limiting what the phone can do. The A320/Y has both band-2 & 4.

Hi,

Thanks you are the first person to make sense of all this! The problem started happening in May 2017 for the area of zipcode 06825.

I believe what you are saying is T-Mobile used to support “UMTS” but T-Mobile is dropping UMTS support so the new tower upgrades only support LTE which is why mine isn’t working anymore. My phones support the bands for UMTS but not LTE.

I actually have the 2016 version which is SM-A310F. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn24x/samsung-sm-a310f-galaxy-a3-2016-td-lte

If I'm following this correctly that means if I buy the “A320Y” version it will work. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn28R/samsung-sm-a320y-ds-galaxy-a3-2017-duos-td-lte

So this means I have to make sure an unlocked phone has band 2 and 4 for “LTE”. My problem is T-Mobile no longer supports UMTS not that they are unlocked.

T-Mobile should make that clearer on this page, it’s unclear right now that those bands have to be LTE and that UMTS is no longer supported starting 2017.

https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-1265

Thanks for the help

Userlevel 7

sherbert wrote:

I believe what you are saying is T-Mobile used to support “UMTS” but T-Mobile is dropping UMTS support so the new tower upgrades only support LTE which is why mine isn’t working anymore. My phones support the bands for UMTS but not LTE.

I actually have the 2016 version which is SM-A310F. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn24x/samsung-sm-a310f-galaxy-a3-2016-td-lte

If I'm following this correctly that means if I buy the “A320Y” version it will work. These are the frequencies.

https://www.frequencycheck.com/models/vn28R/samsung-sm-a320y-ds-galaxy-a3-2017-duos-td-lte

So this means I have to make sure an unlocked phone has band 2 and 4 for “LTE”. My problem is T-Mobile no longer supports UMTS not that they are unlocked.

T-Mobile should make that clearer on this page, it’s unclear right now that those bands have to be LTE and that UMTS is no longer supported starting 2017.

https://support.t-mobile.com/docs/DOC-1265

Thanks for the help

First off, HSPA & HSPA+ are extensions of the UMTS standard for higher speed data. AFAIK, a phone that has UMTS will still work on an HSPA(+) network. HSPA+ is what T-Mobile calls "4G" but is really 3.5G.

The specs you point to for the SM-A310F clearly show that it's a primarily Euro-Asian version, not really intended for use in North America. The US UMTS bands it supports are 2 & 5. AFAIK, T-Mobile does not have any UMTS band-5,  so only band-2 will be applicable.

The only US LTE band it supports is band-5. T-Mobile has band-5 LTE in exactly one market: Myrtle Beach, SC.  So, this phone is very marginal for use with T-Mobile (USA). It would probably work better on AT&T or one of their MVNOs (e.g. Cricket) as they have extensive UMTS band-5 & 2.

The A320Y would be a decent phone for T-Mobile. I would not turn it down if someone gave me one. But as for buying it now, it lacks LTE band-12, which is T-Mobile's only current low-band frequency, providing extended range and building "penetration". In the future, you'll want to look for a phone with band-71, which will be T-Mobile's new low-band addition, greatly increasing in-building and rural service possibilities.

Anyway, T-Mobile is currently maintaining support for HSPA+/UMTS in markets where it's been in service, but reserves the right to change bands or reduce the amount of spectrum allocated to (depreciate) that service. At least I have not heard of them shutting down HSPA+/UMTS in any existing market. They very seldom install HSPA+ (or GSM) in any new markets. All new coverage in N & S Dakota seems to be LTE. The only HSPA+ in all of the new N. Mich. coverage is in Traverse City (AFAIK).

Thanks for all this information it has been very helpful. That is good to know about the LTE band-12. I've always been happy with using phones with HSPA+/UMTS which I know wasn't the fastest or best but gave me fast H+ speeds in most scenarios. Sounds like I can sell the phones since they will work on other networks.

For anyone also having a similar problem. T-Mobile definitely just changed something that stopped 3 of my HSPA+/UMTS phones from getting H+ (3.5G speeds) in CT area. I only get an "E" (Edge) speed now which is barley usable now a days. So that is something to keep in mind if they have those kind of phones. Also keep in mind I've used HSPA+/UMTS phones with T-Mobile for at least 5 years without any problems till now in this area but I'll make sure I switch to phones with supported LTE bands from now on. Employees in T-Mobile stores told me a recent tower upgrade caused this. Seems like the case.

Thanks

sherbert wrote:

For anyone also having a similar problem. T-Mobile definitely just changed something that stopped 3 of my HSPA+/UMTS phones from getting H+ (3.5G speeds) in CT area. I only get an "E" (Edge) speed now which is barley usable now a days. So that is something to keep in mind if they have those kind of phones. Also keep in mind I've used HSPA+/UMTS phones with T-Mobile for at least 5 years without any problems till now in this area but I'll make sure I switch to phones with supported LTE bands from now on. Employees in T-Mobile stores told me a recent tower upgrade caused this. Seems like the case.

Thanks

What they probably changed is what is referred to as "re-farming" which is essential as @drnewcomb2​ mentioned rearranging their bands.  Being as the phone you mention doesn't have Band 4 but has Band 2 suggests that your area is one of the markets they had to re-farm because of spectrum allocation.  In most markets Band 4 is T-Mobile's primary LTE band and has the most bandwidth which is usually 10x10 or in the case of my city (ATL) 20x20.  However their are some markets where they couldn't get that much Band 4 but rather Band 2 was their widest channels.  Since LTE is now the primary data method what they did in these markets was move HSPA+ off Band 2 to allow it to be better utilized for LTE and moved it to Band 4 which was the smaller channel in that market. 

Most T-Mobile branded phones and a lot of GSM based US unlocked phones supported both 2 and 4 so generally not an issue but based on the link to your model, it looks like it doesn't have Band 4 so when they moved it you lost it.

If you have a device that supports UMTS/HSPA+ on Band 2 and 4 and LTE Band 2,4,12 (and eventually 71) you shouldn't ever have any issues unless of course you are in Myrtle Beach and your phone doesn't support Band 5 🙂

It sounds like you are correct. That would explain why the T-Mobile phone tech support said they didn't show any upgrades in our area but then the T-Mobile store employees kept telling me they upgraded the towers.  I kept getting different info from T-Mobile employees which was frustrating, but re-farming would make sense and kind of explains why they didn't see upgrades on the map.

Thanks

Userlevel 7

In the Fairfield CT license area T-Mobile has 25x25 MHz of AWS (band-4) and 10x10 MHz of PCS (band-2). Since the largest LTE bandwidth for AWS is 20 MHz, that extra 5x5 MHz is orphaned. The most efficient allocation for UMTS and LTE would be 20x20 LTE band-4 plus 10x10 LTE on band-2, then 5x5 UMTS on band-4. Another option would be UMTS & GSM compressed into a single 5x5 band-2 block and everything else LTE. Since they are still running GSM, I suspect it's 5x5 GSM in PCS plus 5x5 LTE and then 20x20 band-4 LTE and 5x5 HSPA in band-4. This does not make a lot of sense to me as I'd believe it would be immaterial if the HSPA+ was in band-2 or 4, it might as well be next to the GSM, rather than off in the AWS band.

Hi thanks for the info, it is all interesting. I just tested out the Samsung A320Y and it works pretty good in 06825. I get 4G now and my speeds are download 46 Mbps and upload 15 Mbps. I think this one has enough LTE bands to last me a few years till the 5G era.

And for the record, I have notes that say with H+ before the bands changed I used to get download 9 Mbps and upload 2.4 Mbps upload.

Thanks for all your help!

To ask a related question...what the OP said about T-Mobile no longer working with unlocked phones is NOT correct right?  I'm having to upgrade my phone because it no longer works on the network because it is 3G but, being able to shop for an unlocked phone gives me some more options so, that's why I ask.

Thanks for your help.

Userlevel 6
Badge +13

There's older Tmobile branded phones that no longer work on Tmobile.

Userlevel 7

intanet wrote:

To ask a related question...what the OP said about T-Mobile no longer working with unlocked phones is NOT correct right? I'm having to upgrade my phone because it no longer works on the network because it is 3G but, being able to shop for an unlocked phone gives me some more options so, that's why I ask.

It's complicated. Unlocked phones may or may not work well on T-Mobile. The devil (and truth) are in the details. Mostly the details about which bands and standards the phone supports. The best advice I can give is to look at this list. Notice that there are a lot of different levels of compatibility. For instance, some phone work with band-12 but not WiFi Calling.  When you BYOD, you assume the risk of the phone not being fully compatible with T-Mobile.

Thanks drnewcomb2 for that helpful link. I have been learning volumes the past few days in just this little matter of simply wanting to get a phone that now works with the new upgrades.  I've been checking connectivity sites for various models and, unfortunately, some of them were reporting incorrect information about a budget phone I was looking at.  Finally found out that the phone I was finally settle don wasn't 4G or LTE as reported!  sigh.  So, I really appreciate you sending me a more reliable like to look at. Thanks for that.

Oops.  I meant to say: "Thanks for providing a reliable link to look at" 

Userlevel 7

Note that the list is only for phones that support band-12. Phones that support band-71 have a ​much​ shorter list and they pretty much can all be found at a T-Mobile or Metro store.

What's your take on band 2 and band 4 phones?  I have a very cheap service...pay as you go legacy.  It has no internet and I will just be making phone calls.  In your opinion, would a 2 and 4 band frequency capable phone be sufficient for this?

Userlevel 7

Depending on where you are, you could get by with a phone that has GSM-1900 and band-2 & 4 UMTS. Most new markets are LTE-only. One recent discussion on another forum is if there were any flip-phones that were compatible with T-Mobile LTE. It seems to be a bit of a unicorn. Sort of cutting against the grain of T-Mobile service, which is data-centric.

Yeah.  I'm in NYC so, pretty much LTE now I believe.  The cheapo phone I was looking said it worked on (among other bands):

LTE     B2 (1900 PCS),  LTE     B4 (1700/2100 AWS 1) and
LTE     B12 (700 ac)

T-Mobile works on bands 2 and 4 LTE so, I thought I 'd be good. But, I searched the T-Mobile website and they had the phone Coolpad Rougue, byt said it WASN'T LTE.  So, I called the company that makes it and the agent said it was.  Round and around I go.  Actually got sick from this experience with so much mis-information. No kidding.  I'm drinking a hot lemon tea now and taking tons of vitamin C to counteract it.  It's amazing what stress can do to the body.  But, thankfully there are people like you (and a few others I met here) who know their stuff AND care enough to respond.  Thanks for that.  A bright light in this otherwise extremely stressful situation.

I guess more frustrating and that's what made it stressful.  Anyhow, enough about poor little me. heh.

Userlevel 7

NYC is a market with only a token of 2G GSM remaining. There's 5 MHz of UMTS on band 4 but for service to be anything like reliable, you need an LTE phone.

Thanks for that info.  Yeah, I heard that too...maybe even on this forum.  I remember reading a thread where someone from Queens was having the kind of connection problems that I have been having and, that was what they discovered too. But, a T-Mobile agent told me to look for LTE, not just 4G so, thanks for that confirmation too.  The people at Coolpad Rogue said they were the same thing (that 4G and LTE meant the same thing) but, I did some more research and found out they aren't.  That 4GLTE is the next generation 4G (or something like that).  Whew.  So much misinformation out there that, even being willing to put the time in to do your research, you have to hope to get the correct answers when you do.  But, I also read somewhere that you can upgrade a 4G hardware phone to 4GLTE with a software updated.  Anyhoo...

Userlevel 7

T-Mobile got into a semantics trap when they started calling their upgraded UMTS network,  (HSPA+), "4G Speed". Then they just started calling it "4G", It's really 3.5G. You don't really get to 4G until LTE but now T-Mobile has to call that "4G LTE". Oh what a tangled web we weave when the marketing department takes over....

Yeah, and get this.  I just got a confirmation from contacting CoolPad Rogue manufacturer that this model is NOT LTE. WOW!  2 Agents from the company previously assured me (as well as many connectivity websites) that this budget model I was about to buy HAD LTE.  When I kind of pressed the third agent, telling him that the T-Mobile website reports this phone as NOT having LTE so, since the agents at T-Mobile will have to go by their website's information, if I have issues, it would all be all on me so I need to be sure this phone has LTE, he writes me back saying:

"I just verified it that the Coolpad Rogue is not LTE device. I do apologize for the mis-information.

Thanks,

Customer Support"

Wow.  So, even misinformation from the phone manufacturers.  I finally gave up my search for a new phone for now and will live with my connection issues.

Hi there,

This information has all been very helpful!

I'm just wondering if this could possibly explain what's recently happened with my beloved unlocked Xperia X Compact, which I've been using without issue since March 2017. About a month ago, around the time the tower up the block from me was upgraded (NYC), my phone intermittently stopped receiving calls over the LTE(preferred)/WCDMA/GSM option. Sometimes they come through without issue, and other times the phone doesn't ring on my end (and on the caller's end it sounds like a dead line for about 10-15 seconds, until my voicemail comes on without ever having rung). The only way to receive calls reliably is to put the phone on GSM-only mode (which is fine as a stopgap measure, but is definitely not a long-term solution).

Tech support said it might be a compatibility issue, and since this only started happening around roughly the time the tower was upgraded, I'm wondering if that's what triggered the problem. The specs of the Xperia X Compact are here: Xperia X Compact Specifications | Xperia Blog

Wondering if there's anything I can do to make my phone functional with the upgrade or if switching to a T-Mobile supported device would be my only option.

Thanks so much in advance for any information anyone can provide!!

Userlevel 7

The different VoLTE standards are a black box to me. I've never seen a good discussion of why a phone with VoLTE might work on one carrier but not on another. In NYC you should still be able to fall back to UMTS when VoLTE does not work and the Xpera X Compact (F5321) should have UMTS bands 2 & 4.

Thanks so much for your reply, @drnewcomb2 -- this is very helpful, and much appreciated!

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