Unlocked iPhone Spotted Running On T-Mobile’s 3G Network? It’s True…Sort Of

No, I’m not crazy and yes, this story is about an iPhone running on T-Mobile’s 3G network. Yes we’re talking 3G here because only the iPhone 4S really supports what T-Mobile quantifies as 4G anyway. A small, unknown factoid about how T-Mobile is handling some of its spectrum refarming is that in certain parts of the country, they are using the 1900MHz band (known as the PCS band) for HSPA+. We’ve come to expect that any time we’re talking about T-Mobile’s 3G and 4G phones, we’re talking about phones that operate on T-Mobile’s AWS band of 1700/2100. Well, depending on the part of the country we’re discussing, T-Mobile is utilizing spectrum on the 1900MHz band and because of this… Some unlocked iPhone users are picking up 3G signals.

For instance, this user from Howard Forums was one of the first individuals to bring this to our attention and then we went to work. Of course by going to work we mean talking to TmoNews resident spectrum guru Conan Kudo who broke the whole thing down:

First and foremost, the area we’re specifically talking about is Nevada as that is where this individual unlocked iPhone owner lives. However, Nevada, parts of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest are also seeing some pockets of 1900MHz spectrum refarming for HSPA+. There are other parts of the country T-Mobile can refarm the 1900MHz spectrum but, the focus is on the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, Utah and California for right now from what we’re told. We should emphasize and emphasize greatly that this post does not mean that all of the aforementioned areas are seeing this refarmed spectrum, just pockets inside those areas.

So why is T-Mobile refarming this spectrum? In order to roll out HSPA+ 84, they need four carriers, meaning towers that the phones can connect with. AWS spectrum typically only provides two carriers (which is required for HSPA+42), aggregating AWS and PCS will support at least four or five carriers. That’s not true for all regions, but a good number of regions will require “dual-banding” to pull off HSPA+ 84.

Incidentally, the HSPA+ 84 network will allow T-Mobile to claim that peak speeds are 10-12 times faster than 3G, if 3G is being rated as HSPA 7.2. If it was being compared to EV-DO (which Sprint and Verizon run), it would be 26-27 times faster (EV-DO peaks at 3.2Mbps)!

Coming back around to the iPhone as a small handful of users have reported seeing T-Mobile 3G appear on the iPhone and speed tests yielded results that a 2G signal wouldn’t allow.

So what does all this mean in layman terms? For the moment, nothing… Unless you happen to be in an area where T-Mobile is refarming spectrum on the 1900MHz band and use an unlocked iPhone. Think back to the Samsung Vibrant and the knowledge that phone had a special antenna as T-Mobile had Samsung hook up the PCS band in the hardware so that the radio could receive and transmit on PCS for 3G. In other words, the significance of that device is that before it, we can’t recall any T-Mobile device that had UMTS 1900 support. T-Mobile has begun including the 1900 UMTS band in higher-end devices which explain why the Sidekick 4G didn’t include it, but the Samsung Galaxy S 4G did.

The bottom line is that in some areas, there is a real possibility unlocked iPhone owners could pick up pockets of 3G signal. It’s not going to be a scenario we see playing out all over the country, in fact it’s probably going to be pretty rare with lots of emphasis on rare. We’re not quite sure exactly what T-Mobile is up to, we do know HSPA+ 84 is currently in testing and we might learn some kind of launch time frame at CES in January. Until then, we’ll keep trying to figure out T-Mobile’s spectrum plans and see what other kind of hidden mysteries we can uncover. 

I understand for many of you, this story will look and read like a lot of bs. I hope you recognize that I wouldn’t run something like this if I didn’t think it had some merit. This is absolutely one of those things that is difficult, if not impossible to prove unless you know what are you looking for and where to go to find it. I can’t emphasize enough how unlikely it is you will find this signal at the moment but, without knowing T-Mobile’s plans for their 1900MHz PCS band, it’s possible we could see more of this pop up in the future but again, it’s likely to be rare. 

If you want to see if your area is working on the new PCS HSPA+ network, you’ll need one of the following devices:

  • Samsung Galaxy S 4G
  • Samsung Vibrant
  • Samsung Exhibit II 4G
  • Samsung Galaxy S II
  • HTC Amaze 4G
  • HTC Radar 4G
  • Nokia Lumia 710
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
  • T-Mobile Springboard
  • Dell Streak 7
  • Dell Inspiron Mini 10
  • T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile Hotspot
  • T-Mobile Rocket 3.0

If you have a Samsung phone, you can check which frequency band you are using by going to the dialer and entering in the code “*#0011#”. There are also ways to temporarily and persistently disable and enable frequency bands from the software on Samsung phones. HTC users may need to look into the testing menu to find out how to check the band being used. We don’t know how to check on any other devices though, particularly the tablets, the laptop, the hotspot, and the data stick. They’ll work on the PCS HSPA+ network though.

Many many thanks to Conan Kudo who helped contribute to this report with his never-ending understanding of spectrum analysis.

More Info: HowardForums 1, HowardForums 2

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  • Qlj222

    david you wrote 
    TC Amaze 4G lol its correct its HTC Amaze 4G

  • Qlj222

    david you wrote 
    TC Amaze 4G lol the correct way is HTC Amaze 4G

  • Joe

    I live i birmingham alabama and mine works…I have factory unlocked iphone 4s download almost 8mbps and upload almost 2mbps

    • Guests

      Upload a video to YouTube or send a screenshot of the speed test to TMONews so it can be posted.

    • J-Hop2o6

      Yes please upload a youtube video for better proof.. I wanna see this in action.

    • Nobody

      What part of Birmingham do you live? Does it work 3G everyw

    • tclint

      I was just in birmingham, al earlier today and was in shock to see 3g as well! I was wondering if it was isolated to that area only and sadly i was right. I was at the Summit when this happened. I did not do anything at all, i just noticed fast connection and the 3G symbol.

      • Jarrod

        Im going through that area in a month, what all areas around there are the same way along 459 and i65 or i59?

  • WillW

    Could someone make a youtube video on how to do it

  • http://twitter.com/devGOD Patrick

    any word if it works in the Atlanta area? i’d like to get a unlock 4s if all possible with decent speed

  • J-Hop2o6

    Wow.. Tmo has more PCS than VZN on avg. in PCS.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.locurto Thomas LoCurto

      It’s because VZW doesn’t really need it – they have all that sweet sweet 700mhz spectrum and 850mhz spectrum. They have extremely enviable spectrum holdings. 

    • Anonymous

      Keep in mind that those spectrum holdings stats are just (straight or population weighted) national averages, not consistent figures.

      Because the FCC (at least until recently) has conceptualized wireless competition on a largely local basis, wireless licenses in the US have been traditionally apportioned on a local or regional level.  Though exceptions do exist (e.g. VZW Upper 700 MHz C block 22 MHz spectrum, Sprint PCS “G” block 10 MHz spectrum, Qualcomm Lower 700 MHz D block 6 MHz unpaired spectrum), it is rare for a license holder to control a specific spectrum block entirely nationwide.

      So, for example, in some markets, T-Mobile has more PCS 1900 MHz spectrum than VZW does.  And, in other markets, the roles are reversed.


      • J-Hop2o6

        I know its averages.. but its still funny how Tmo has more than Verizon.. but thx for all the info in this Blog post WiWave.

  • Nobody

    Thia article really needs some fact checking.  A 1900 UMTS network would require a deployment of supporting base station transceivers. Did TMUS do that?  The PCS band can’t be combined with AWS to get 84Mbps. This would more likely be a MIMO application, but also requires another hardware upgrade.  IMHO, TMUS really needs a stronger plan for its PCS holdings.

    • J-Hop2o6

      Search for dual carrier.. but its possible to use two different spectrum simutanously to get HSPA+ data

      • Nobody

        I’m sure you know all about it.  Dual Carrier (HSPA+42) is accomplished with adjacent blocks in the same Band. Maybe multi band HSPA+ will be possible in the future, but not with the current hardware vendors.

        • Anonymous

          Dual Carrier HSPA+ in non adjacent spectrum requires W-CDMA Release 9.


        • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

          I’ve heard about it. I suspected the end goal of deploying WCDMA to the PCS band is to prepare for UMTS Release 9, which allows for that.

    • Anonymous

      Obviously, T-Mobile has deployed W-CDMA 1900 infrastructure in some markets.  As they say, the proof is in the pudding.  Users here and at HowardForums have encountered native T-Mobile W-CDMA 1900.  Add it all up:  iPhones on T-Mobile 3G, W-CDMA band class 2, MCC-MNC 310-260 = T-Mobile W-CDMA 1900. 

      As for infrastructure, T-Mobile has needed to deploy W-CDMA 1900 channel cards and probably additional PCS 1900 MHz amps.  But antenna elements, backhaul, and cabling have likely carried over from the existing GSM 1900 and W-CDMA 2100+1700 infrastructure.


      • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

        From what I’ve heard, the infrastructure was put in place at the same time they deployed their AWS HSPA+ network in many markets in 2010, so it’s not too difficult for them to activate on PCS, too.

        • Jarrod

          Do you know if it was in all markets or just a select few? And was it on the internet somewhere?

        • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

          It was in most markets that had more than 25MHz of PCS and 10MHz or more of AWS. There’s a list compiled by WiWavelength somewhere down there in the comments. Of course, zones that have no HSPA+ running at all right now are unknowns. I’m looking into finding out if they’ve deployed the equipment in those areas too.

        • Jarrod

          Do you think at some point Houston Texas would qualify. I think they have a big chunk of PCS but they also have like 1/3rd of AWS I think also.

        • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

          Holy crap! Harris County, TX has a whopping 70MHz of combined AWS and PCS. You’ve got 40MHz of PCS and 30MHz of AWS. You’ll get it, but you’re also likely to get LTE too. You’re also getting at least another 10MHz of AWS for Houston itself from AT&T, too! 

        • Jarrod

          Yeah I was reading the thing they are picking up another 20mhz of aws. I hope they do add 1900mhz 3G seeing how I have recently got a iPhone 3GS. I’m still able to burn through a bit of Internet just not as fast I was averaging a gig a week on my 4g phone but know I’m using a gig in two weeks

  • Anonymous

    Wow I wonder if T-Mobile could get 1900mhz PCS 3G widely deployed nationwide that would change their dynamic with Apple on obtaining the iPhone in their stores.  I would think, that would take control away from Apple.  Let’s say PCS 3G is good to go in two months it’s almost in everyone’s best interest that has an iPhone with another carrier to unlock their iPhone, switch to T-Mobile, pay LESS and get FASTER internet with T-Mobile on monthly 4G or a family value plan.

    • Anonymous

      Folks, this T-Mobile W-CDMA 1900 deployment is not some clandestine nationwide initiative to accommodate the iPhone.  One, T-Mobile does not realistically have enough spectrum to run GSM 1900 and W-CDMA 1900 simultaneously in many of the largest markets.  (Read my posts below on markets and spectrum.)  Two, it is far more practical for the iPhone to accommodate T-Mobile by eventually adding W-CDMA band class 4 aka W-CDMA 2100+1700 support.


      • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

        Plus, it’s not like it is expensive for Apple to add it. At most, it will add $1 to the cost of building an iPhone. The only reason it’s not there? Apple has no need for it yet.

  • Lawrence of Arabia

    How can we be sure it is on tmos network?
    You can change the carrier’s name using sbsettings.

    • Jarrod

      Its possible but I seriously doubt that would be the case I have never seen speeds like that on a At & t iPhone so I would say its probably true just by things I have seen on my tmobile 4G phone.

      • http://pharaohtechblog.blogspot.com/ Conan Kudo (???????)

        Other screenshots I’ve seen show the MCC and MNC to match T-Mobile USA. Most people have no clue what those numbers mean, and they don’t change it, if they can change it at all.

  • Gr4452

    i have 2 lines with tmobile .. 1 android and 1 unlocked iphone 4 (for gsm) … no problems whatsoever for the iphone

  • Gwapo

    Hi David!! Can we get a map wherein 3G signal in Tmobile is available? Thanks

    • Jarrod

      Its hard to say caise there expanding coverage ATM and it don’t say which frequency it’s on

  • Guest

    I was one of the first people using the iphone 4s on tmob since I bought a ATT full retail on launch and it unlocked automatically so I stuck my tmob sim in it and it worked.
    It was so slow on 2G that I returned it for the Sammy GS2.
    If tmob was smart they would find a way to get 3G for the iphone and it may just be something that helps them get new customers and survive.

  • Guest

    Nokia C7 and Nokia E6 support 1900 as well

    • d1969guo guo

      Every single unlocked Symbian^3 phone is pentaband……..

    • control c

      thats fine

  • Littlesis1774

    Well someone tmobile thread said that had gotten 3g network on their home so it true. At this point it makes no sense for tmobile not have it

  • http://twitter.com/Surfeast Surfeast

    Well with the shared roaming agreement just announced with AT&T this all makes sense now. All be it it is hit or miss based on which city you are in.

  • Roger Sales

    There are a huge amounts of benefits to transitioning PCS to 3G/4G though. For one, people will no longer have the problem of the network switching down to EDGE because of signal or capacity constraints, as the network will be entirely HSPA+. Also, it gives smartphone power users an extra life line in cities like new york when they are more likely to be in a jam with overused towers. with 1900 HSPA+ all the towers are speed friendly, not like the EDGE towers of the past where if you switch down there is a severe lack of useability. This is part of ATT’s problem, if they just switched their network to HSPA+ completely it would have helped their bottom line for their smartphone peeps who complain of poor service. Running two types of technologies doesn’t work in north america where we already in a severe spectrum bind, which is why Verizon is often praised for their network in my opinion(they didn’t have to switch from EDGE to HSPA because their 3G technology was just added onto their already existing towers with no backlash.)

  • Anonymous

    Can anyone comment if it’s safe to buy a Samsung Galaxy S II (International version) to pick up 3G speeds? I live in Philadelphia, PA. 

    And no, I don’t want the T-Mobile version of the G S II.

  • http://benpike.net Ben Pike
    • A D

      how do we determine it? which PCS broadband did you select? i am in los angeles

  • Gwapo

    Any updates?

  • Skippy0304

    I was outside of Philly this weekend and def picked up a 3G signal on my iPhone…. It was only in certain areas and once I did get inside th city it went back to edge.

    • Minhluan81

      same here. I was on I95 between exit 46 and 37.

    • LBX

      Also picked up 3g/H+ on Galaxy Note 
      around Oxford Valley Mall, Fairless Hills PA 

    • Flral

      I just came from Leviintown .PA and i got 3g service on my unlock iphone 4s.

      • Adry1980

        Yes, IPhone is runing on 3G in Levittown PA.

  • Rickyvandevall3

    how can i make my tmobile sim card work on my iphone 3g? its jailbroken and i have no clue wat to do now…

  • Rickyvandevall3

    how can i make my tmobile sim card work on my iphone 3g? its jailbroken and i have no clue wat to do now…

    • criminal hack

      hello all you have to do is go to cydia.go to search then type in ultrasn0w with a zero for the o. then download it then after you download it hit restart springboard then the iphone will be unlocked insert you sim and it should work.after that go to cydia and download
      t-mobile ios4 MMS fix this is for you to recive picture messages Good luck

  • Andy

    Yes, you are right, in Levittown PA… I got 3G on that area too.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/K3EGYKOXXPP655SYLUKNACGI3Q Rusty

    I am getting 3g connections on my I-phone in certian areas of Springfield/Holyoke, Massachusetts. (Mostly in Holyoke.

    • Jarrod

      What type of speeds are you getting and did you notice anything with your signal before you noticed getting 3G?

  • Ooshiewooshie

    I want 3G on my iPhone 4 in Oklahoma City!

    • Jarrod

      Im with you ever since I got my iPhone 3GS working in mid January I have been checking almost every day to see if 3G will come on but as of yet Houston don’t have 3G in the North West part at least. I can’t wait though.

  • rj88

    will this be true for iPhone 3g users?? as they support HSDPA 1900 mhz as well??

  • Jamil729

    So is there a away to disable 4G and just use 3G not 2G on the Samsung phones?

  • Leewonrichard86snak

    i what to how to do it for my phone i have the 3gs i had it and after i out my tmobilr sim card it stoped work i can i jailbreaken it

  • Leewonrichard86snak

    i really need some help on jailbreaking my iphone what can i do 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1357182708 Adrian Torres-Vega

    In Boston, Ma, it does not appear T Mobile’s 1900 MHz is used as a 3g band.  I’m patiently waiting to order an international HTC One X and desperately want this to take affect asap. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SQBX7IU3MPYPFPT3CFPOTJTJBU Anthony M

    This is all BS T-mobile just has to pay the money to get they IPhone…
    I thought ya’ll cared about your customers. Mr. obama you get involved with making America equal to everyone 

    • Dan K

      Shut up.

  • Waldozzy24

    i have and iphone 3gs and its unock. im only getting edge i was wondering id there any way i could get 3g. i know there 3g in my area because i had a samsung galaxy and i was getting 3g signal. plz help

  • anonymous

    iPhone 4S as of 7AM 6 May 2012 showing T-Mobile 3G in western Massachusetts

  • Lsjsjansnsn

    So phones without 1900 mhz band will only get 2g speeds since tmobile will cut the old bands off?

  • Nick

    I noticed 3G on my iPhone 4S today while at work in Bellevue, WA. Unfortunately I couldn’t connect to 3G in Kent, WA.

  • Anthony071095

    You People just need to freaking wait!! Yes they are adding new 1900 MHz bands for iPhones to work on 3G! Uncle confirmed me
    That tmobile 3G is working on his iPhone in California

  • John

    My iPhone 4 unlock show 3G bar signal. Tmobile 1900 MHz is in Dallas and it connect very fast.

    • Michael Torres

      Where are you seeing this? I just switched.

    • WizzardOfOz

      It is also working in Detroit. I had to take a picture of my screen because I couldn’t believe it. I was able to make a call an also be on the Internet. I even watched a whole episode of family guy on Netflix!!!

  • Chrisguzman46

    Does anyone have a iphone 4 with tmobile 3g in california?

  • Ryannayr

    Ok. So i have a iPhone 3G on Tmobile. Jailbroken and unlocked. I only pick up service if 3G is disabled. Let’s say #G is now available in my area. Will i automatily recive it, or will i have to switch on 3G?

    • Ryannayr

      haha duhh nvm

  • Ryannayr

    Lancaster Pennsylvania, and no 3G service, just EDGE.

  • jdub

    They say they were focusing on Utah, yet I drove through every major Utah city and got nothing. Ugh, how hard would it be to just tell us their schedule so I can at have an idea as to when I’ll get it

  • Rytech

    This news is fake.
    Look at the iPhone picture showing 3G which is modify with some software. The front looks different!!!!

  • http://elwoodanderson.com eaanders

    See my latest post on the Howard Forum at the link below for the latest information on 3G and H+ in Las Vegas.


  • minh

    my iphone 4s catching 3G signal in some place around metro Atlanta

  • wendy

    my iphone 3gs shows 3g signal also i have tmobile and is unlock