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We already have a US equivalent question and the Canadian cell-phone marker is equally twisted with most carriers being helpful at telling what technologies and standards they use. As I am about to go to Mexico and would like to bring my Motorola Charm cellphone running on Rogers' network, this is perfect time to found out how to do this homework :)

  • Given an already-owned cellphone and which runs on an existing network.
  • How does one find out if a phone will work on a specific destination country?
  • How to find out if it will accept a local SIM which would give better rates than roaming?

For using a local SIM, obviously assume the phone is unlocked. Mine is.

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1 Answer 1

First, look up the phone's specs via Google. Wikipedia has good pages for most phones, including yours, and the top right infobox says:

Compatible networks GSM 850/900/1800/1900, EDGE UMTS 900/1700/2100

Ignore the EDGE UMTS HSPA LTE OMG BBQ WTF bit at the end and look at the first part after GSM: you've got four numbers (frequencies) listed. Geeks calls that "quad-band", but in English, that means "works everywhere". Broadly speaking, the Americas use GSM 850/1900, while everywhere else uses 900/1800; as long as you've got at least three of those covered ("tri-band"), you're set, at least for voice calls, SMS and some sort of basic data.

This is pretty much the default these days, as (at the risk of slight oversimplification) most modern cellphones have solved the problem of multiple incompatible standards and frequencies by simply supporting everything. The main outlying non-GSM standard is CDMA2000, which is (roughly speaking) useless for roaming, but fortunately that's dying out -- check this list, again on Wikipedia, to see if you're stuck with it. (If you're in Canada, odds are very high you're not.)

And as for your last question, if your phone is unlocked, it will accept a local SIM -- that's what unlocked means! If you plan on using your phone for more than a day or two, local rates will always be better than roaming.

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Nice info but that last paragraph as unfortunately incorrect. I did buy local SIMs several times in different countries and once the phone would not connect, after calling tech support, they said the bands were just not supported and I was still in Canada! So despite having an unlocked quad-band phone which worked on Rogers it would not work on Bell. –  Itai Dec 27 '13 at 14:40
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I worked in telco for a decade, so I'm quite sure I'm correct. If your phone is unlocked and quad-band, it will work everywhere. What SIM did you try where, on what phone, and whose tech support did you call? –  jpatokal Dec 28 '13 at 4:34
    
The issue is that not all protocols are always supported on all bands. Both of my unlocked phones worked with Rogers' SIMs and several in Europe and South America but neither would accept the Bell SIM. It would simply not connect to the network and given a number. Ironically, I worked for Telus at the time :) –  Itai Dec 28 '13 at 4:45
    
To answer your questions that was a Motorola Charm and a Motorola RAZR V3 (plus my wife's which IIRC was an i7) which all worked on Rogers and none on Bell's network which is whose support I called. –  Itai Dec 28 '13 at 4:49
    
Got some more info from Wikipedia here. If you look under Rogers it says GSM-850/1900 (GPRS, EDGE) 850/ 1900 MHz UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+ AWS/2600 MHz LTE but under Bell it says 850/ 1900 MHz UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+ AWS/2600 MHz LTE. You see, 850/900 appears on both but it does not say GSM next to those frequencies for Bell. –  Itai Jan 11 at 20:33
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