HTC One Google Play edition

'Compatibility' isn't always a guarantee of the best experience

pasadenabill posted in the forums with a question:

I bought the HTC One Google Play Edition because I wanted an unlocked phone for when I travel overseas. I am a longtime T-Mobile subscriber and after getting the GPE I immediately noticed that it would not connect to the 4G network very reliably. Thinking this was a possible local network issue, T-Mobile loaned me a T-Mobile version of the HTC One to use side by side. In most cases, the T-Mobile version had good or full 4G connectivity, but the GPE version did not. When it does not, it gets very slow 2G service.

I am able to get 4G about 1/3rd of the time but I can be sitting right next to someone with T-Mobile HTC One or a Galaxy or iPhone and they have full 4G service.

T-Mobile says that the unlocked phones are missing some code that only their phones have. I don't know if that is a line of BS or not, but I am hoping someone on the forums can tell me what is up before I start complaining more to the CEO of T-Mobile.

We can absolutely see how this can get confusing and frustrating, and the information provided by T-Mobile, Google and HTC on the matter doesn't always make things clear either. In the end it basically comes down to the incompatibility of what radio bands the HTC One Google Play edition supports and the radio bands that T-Mobile is operating its network on. Read along after the break for a complete explanation.

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T-Mobile HTC One

Although they may share the same name, the HTC One sold by T-Mobile and the HTC One from Google Play actually have miniscule hardware differences between them. One of the biggest differences, and the one causing an issue here, is that of the radio bands.

T-Mobile operates its network primarily on two bands — 1900MHz and the combination of 1700/2100MHz commonly referred to as "AWS." The carrier has traditionally used 1900MHz for EDGE (2G) service, with AWS doing the heavy lifting for HSPA+ (3G or sometimes "4G"). As it moves through the transition to LTE, T-Mobile is cutting back on EDGE service and moving HSPA+ to 1900MHz, leaving AWS wide open for LTE to flow on.

While at first glance both phones seem to support the same frequencies and have radios to access EDGE, HSPA+ and LTE on T-Mobile, there's one big missing component on the Google Play edition HTC One — 1700/2100MHz (AWS) for HSPA+. The frequency list, as seen on Google Play:

GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
3G (850, 1900, 2100 MHz)
4G LTE (700 MHz, AWS)

With the above frequency list inside of your HTC One Google Play edition, it is technically "compatible" with T-Mobile's network. ("Compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Check with your carrier for details about coverage," according to Google Play.) In many parts of the country, T-Mobile offers EDGE and HSPA+ on 1900MHz, as well as LTE on 1700/2100MHz AWS and in those areas folks with the HTC One Google Play edition will have the same experience as someone with a branded T-Mobile handset.

T-Mobile SIM cards

Unfortunately T-Mobile is still in the middle of this transition towards putting HSPA+ on 1900MHz in many markets across the country, and in those areas your Google Play edition device will operate much the same as any unlocked AT&T handset that doesn't support AWS or the iPhone 4 and 4S (as a common example) sold by T-Mobile. In these cases your phone just simply doesn't have the radio frequencies to match up with T-Mobile's network — you'll simply have the option of connecting to EDGE or LTE where available, and only get HSPA+ in markets where the move to 1900MHz has taken place.

While it is far from a complete list, a site called keeps track of user-submitted markets where 1900MHz HSPA+ is available. T-Mobile's own coverage maps can give you an idea of where LTE is available, too.

It's a bit of a messy situation when you talk about carriers, radio frequencies and unlocked handsets, but rest assured that the way your HTC One Google Play edition is interacting with T-Mobile is expected and normal. Now you have a bigger choice of whether or not to stick with the handset, or hold out for T-Mobile to transition to offering HSPA+ on 1900MHz in your market or expand LTE. Time to do some soul searching on that one.