I meant to add, we bought the sim cards in-store, where we were told there wasn't a need to activate them, and that they would work straight away. Texting and calling each other also works fine - only 4G (not even 3G) doesn't work.
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Here's the story. T-Mobile uses mostly LTE bands 2, 4 & 12 with a little of bands 5, 66 and 71 in some markets.
The European version of the Moto G5S has the following LTE bands.
1(2100), 3(1800), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 19(800), 20(800), 28(700), 38(2600), 40(2300)
The phone also has HSPA (UMTS) bands: 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
Of these T-Mobile only uses 1900 but not in every market.
So, your phone is not really well suited to working with T-Mobile. It is compatible at various levels in various markets but is not fully compatible throughout the USA.
Thanks, that's very helpful. So why would it be that I momentarily had 4G, is it that I was passing through an area that had 4G coverage by T-Mobile?
What about another carrier, would you think AT&T would be more compatible? Are there more? I have this sense there's only two main carriers in the country, is that right?
I'm not sure why "4G" would show up on your phone. Some phones in the US show "4G" when they see an HSPA+ signal.
Your phone has very few bands that are actually used in North America. A similar situation occurs with many US phones when roaming in Europe. AT&T has more UMTS running on 850 & 1900 MHz. So, your phones might see "3G" or "H" more often on AT&T and they have significantly more LTE on band 5 than T-Mobile has. The other two national carriers: Sprint and Verizon, have restrictions on the phones they will activate. Sprint still uses CDMA for voice and text. Verizon does too but is transitioning to an all-LTE network. Much of Verizon's LTE is on bands 4 & 13, which your phone does not have.
Thanks, that's again super-helpful. And just for future reference, do you have any recommendations for smartphones that would work on both continents?
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iPhones are generally pretty much universal, at least for GSM, UMTS & LTE. Otherwise, when you shop for a phone check a site like GSMarena.com and understand that:
- Phones have general models (e.g. "iPhone 7") and specific model numbers (e.g. A1660, A1778). You need to know the specific model number to know the bands and standards a phone supports.
- North America mostly uses LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12/17. Canada also uses LTE band 7. North America uses UMTS (3G) bands 2, 4 & 5.
- Europe uses mostly LTE bands 1, 3, 7 & 8 and UMTS bands 1, 3 & 8. (Other bands are also used but you can get by with these.)
It's a little easier for someone from the Americas to buy a phone for roaming Europe than the other way 'round. We just have to make sure that the phone has LTE bands 1 & 7 and UMTS band 1 and that pretty well covers most situations. Because of the scattered way that the US licenses wireless spectrum, Europeans can never be quite sure which bands they need in which locations. If you will use or roam T-Mobile, you need LTE bands 2, 4 and 12 and UMTS bands 2 & 4. If you use AT&T you need LTE bands 4 & 12/17 and UMTS bands 2 & 5.
Thanks again and again. Your help on this forum has been invaluable and saved me hours of frustrating calls with support etc. Much obliged!