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Unlocked Android? No So Fast

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on October 16, 2008

T-Mobile has said the buyers of the new G1 Android phone will be able to unlock it 90 days after purchase so it can be used on other networks. But U.S. buyers who think this will let them escape T-Mo’s shaky 3G service are going to be disappointed.

The reason for this is that U.S. carriers in general, and T-Mobile in particular, are in their own world when it comes to 3G technology. To understand what this means, you’ll have to put up with a lot of detail about who does what at which frequencies.

In countries where GSM technology is the standard, that is to say nearly everywhere except the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Korea, things are simple. Voice and low-speed data services are at 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G runs at 2100.

In countries where GSM technology is the standard, that is to say nearly everywhere except the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Korea, things are simple. Voice and low-speed data services are at 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G runs at 2100.

In the U.S., T-Mobile and AT&T both use GSM technologies, but there are fundamental incompatibilities in their 3G services. AT&T runs its 2G and 3G services at 850 and 1900 MHz. T-Mobile's 3G service uses 2100 MHz to transmit and 1700 MHz to receive.

The G1 can handle 2G service at 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz, which pretty well covers the world's markets. But 3G comes only at 1700 and 2100 MHz. That takes care of T-Mobile in the U.S. and everyone else in the rest of the world. But it leaves out AT&T's 3G service.

So the bottom line in that you may be able to get your G1 unlocked, but using it for high-speed data in the U.S. on anything but T-Mobile is a non-starter.

Reader Comments


October 17, 2008 11:52 AM

FYI, T-Mobile USA's "unlock after 90 days" policy has applied to all of their phones, for years. They didn't invent to policy to try to trick people into buying the G1 Anrdoid.

Steve Wildstrom

October 17, 2008 2:17 PM

@JohnJ--I did not mean to suggest that T-Mobile is doing anything nefarious--their policy for the G1 is indeed the same as it is for all handsets. But nearly all of T-Mo's existing handsets are GSM/EDGE only, where this problem doesn't arise since they work on all the required frequencies. As 3G becomes more common, this will be more and more of a difficulty because the U.S. is running 3G service on different frequencies than the rest of the world and our two main GSM carriers are incompatible with each other on 3G. This means consumers really have to read the fine print on each phone's datasheet to figure out what will work where.


October 20, 2008 2:01 PM

Just to clarify, T-Mobile's 3G at 1700/2100 is different than Europe or Asia's 3G at 2100(which uses 1900 to transmit). An AT&T phone(like Samsung Blackjack 2 or iPhone 3G) that has "3G 2100" means its compatible with the rest of the world, but not T-Mobile USA's 3G 1700/2100. So therefore you can't take T-Mobile's 3G phones over to AT&T and vice versa.

Steve Wildstrom

October 20, 2008 3:48 PM

@James--To amplify a bit on your clarification, the T-Mobile G1 will work on 3G UMTS/HSPA networks in Europe and Asia. The trouble will come in North America--with AT&T in the US and Rogers in Canada.


October 21, 2008 10:01 PM

I talked to T-mobile and they said they will not provide the unlock codes for this phone or any other phone that is exclusive to T-Mobile.
(i.e. Dash,g1,sidekick) The 90day policy applies to other phones that are not exclusive to T-Mobile


October 25, 2008 5:17 AM is the first to offer unlock code for T-Mobile G1 Android phone. You don't have to wait 90 days to get your unlock code, especially if you have to travel soon.

John Milton

October 28, 2008 3:55 PM

The first website unlocking the T-Mobile G1 is, please check all VIDEO testimonial here :


October 29, 2008 5:29 PM

Probably a dumb question, but since I see no mention of Verizon here, I take it using a G1 with their CDMA network is not even a consideration?

Steve Wildstrom

October 29, 2008 6:17 PM

@rwg--You’re right—Verizon is out of the question. CDMA and GSM networks use fundamentally different radio technologies. There are a few phones, such as the BlackBerry 8830 and Storm, that are equipped with dual—mode radios, but the G1 isn’t one of them.


November 1, 2008 3:29 PM

Is the 3G incompatibility due to hardware? Or is the coding and software the problem?

Steve wildstrom

November 1, 2008 8:55 PM

@Anonymous--It's hardware. Although we have been hearing for years about software-defined radios that can emulate any baseband and operate on any frequency, they remain far from commercially viable. The radios put into handsets are designed to operate on specific frequencies using specific protocols and that generally cannot be changed.


November 2, 2008 8:44 PM

How is G1 can be used in Asia and Europe? According to your comments, G1's 3G frequencies are 1700R+2100T while Asia/Eu is 1900T+2100R, G1's 3G has not 1900 in its 3G, also Transmit and receive frequencies are reversed how can it work in Asia/europe?

Steve Wildstrom

November 2, 2008 9:08 PM

@Curious--European UMTS systems generally tranmit and receive at 2100 MHz (UMTS band 1.) 900 and 1800 are typically used for GSM/GPRS only. In any event, I've had no trouble using AT&T 3G phones that do UMTS at 850/900/1900/2100 in Europe. The problem with the G1 is 3G service on the AT&T network because of the lack of support for 850/1900.

Michael Jennings

November 3, 2008 4:32 AM

If you have a phone that supports 1800MHz (ie non-US) GSM and 2100MHZ (ie non-US) UMTS, engineers have told me that it is relatively simple to support T-Mobile's 1700/2100 UMTS network as well, because most of the necessary on silicon hardware and all the necessary antennas are there already. As virtually all non-US 3G handsets support these modes, it is likely that a large proportion of handsets built for Europe and non-Japan non-Korea Asia will support T-Mobile's network. Therefore, T-Mobile should have a wide choice of handsets for its 3G network soon.

The question is whether these handsets will support AT&T's 850Mhz and 1900MHz 3G network as well. Some will. High end handsets in Europe often now support 850Mhz/1900MHz/2100Mhz UMTS, and I am sure that they will add T-Mobile's frequencies as well. The question is how far down the model ranges this filters and how soon this happens.

The other question is whether T-Mobile in the US will sell them if they do. It may be that they will prefer to sell handsets that cannot be unlocked and then used on AT&T.


November 5, 2008 8:38 AM

This is a post to, "David", above.

I'm not sure who you spoke with at Tmbobile however,I have been with Tmobile since they were Voicestream (a long time). I have ordered several of these phones and am waiting on my unlock code as we speak. They are providing unlock codes, just maybe not to people with new or newer accounts.


November 6, 2008 3:42 PM

That is pretty cool. Just posted this article on my forum as well. How the members will find it usefull.


December 11, 2008 4:21 PM

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