China 4G networks and Fairphone compatibility?

I’m currently in Xiamen, Fujian province for a few days, and I’m finding that internet is painfully slow with my usual 4G SIM card. SMS and phone calls work fine. But internet is so slow, many services just don’t work. In particular, I can’t use gaode ditu to navigate the bus system, which is really crippling.

Generally the network strength indicator shows an “E” where it should show “4G”. This is a China Unicom SIM card. Other posts in the forum suggest that China Unicom does work better than China Mobile with the Fairphone 2.

I actually went to ask at the China Unicom shop, and the guy told me my phone was incompatible with their network. This seems unlikely, and he only glanced at my phone before telling me that. I originally chose China Unicom because their network was most compatible with my Nokia N900. My understanding is that they use more “European” standards, rather than their home-grown CDMA variants, but I’m confused by all the acronyms that have been coming out in the last few years.

However, when I put the SIM card in my Meizu MX4, I got 4G fine. So perhaps he’s right?

If this phone doesn’t work in China that’s pretty disappointing. Can someone give me more details on what’s missing, i.e. which acronyms this phone supports and what you need in China? And which other countries don’t work? Also, is there any way to get diagnostic information from the phone: which standards it’s using for data, and which are supported by the base station even if they aren’t supported by the phone? What does “E” mean?

Thanks for any help!

Unfortunately I can’t answer all your questions.
The “E” represents “EDGE”, a standard below the 3G one.
There is a table on the english Wikipedia (bottom of the page) and more information about this standard on a dedicated page.
You can use EDGE for internet and the like, but it is not ideal for streaming/videos etc. E-Mail, Facebook etc. on the other hand should do fine.

The standard support by your provider should be visible, when you go to


  • More
    • Mobile Networks
      • Preferred network type

Then you get a list of available network types.

Edit: Thx to @TobiasF for the correction in the next posting.
I thougt you can only select those options, supported by your provider.

No. There you can set which network types the phone should use; if you want to use 4G, you have to set “4G” there. @matthew_exon should check if this setting is set to “4G”. If it’s greyed out, you have to set the other SIM card to “2G” before as the FP2 supports 3G/4G on only one SIM card.

You cannot see there which network types are available. You can set “4G”, but if your provider, your contract or your mobile tower does not support 4G or the FP2 does not support the 4G frequencies used by your provider, you will automatically fall back to 3G.

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The cellular technologies and frequency bands supported by the FP2 are listed in the tech specs (scroll all the way down). For what your operator uses, you have to ask them, check their website or do some research.

There is no simple answer to that. Even within the same country, different operators often use different frequencies and technologies. Some operators use different technology for cities than for the countryside (or other parts of the country). It also depends on what you mean by “works”. 2G should work in most places (although some operators are starting to shut it down or never deployed it), with 3G and 4G it’s more complex. It’s also permanently changing. It might have worked in some place a year ago, but now the operator has deployed new technology and retired old one and your phone might not be compatible anymore. Some operators have further restrictions, e. g. only allowing certain devices on their network (for nontechnical reasons). To make a long story short: You really have to do some research when traveling outside Europe with a smartphone made for the European market. There is no “global” phone which just works in every network everywhere.


This page and this page show 4G and 3G networks of China Unicom on frequencies that the FP2 supports, so either there’s an issue with your SIM or settings, or the network frequencies have changed recently.


Suddenly out of the blue it works fine! I think what’s happened is my credit went below a threshold, i topped up, but it took 24 hours for the news to filter through the network. Meanwhile they punished me by bumping me down to a network speed too slow even to pay them money!

Moral is, next time i travel to the mainland, check the balance well in advance.

Disappointing that there’s nothing i can do to diagnose the problem myself, but i guess that’s nothing to do with Fairphone.

Thanks for all the helpful replies!


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