How to force Three to use 3G and 4G only (Android)

Edge signal receptionWhen I was with Three a few years ago, I have had two main issues with their network coverage.  The first issue was the total lack of 3G coverage in my area and the second is where my phone seems to prefer national roaming on to the Vodafone and O2 2G masts. 

While it sounds great being able to access three networks for call and texts, 2G is practically useless for data:

34% packet loss in ping test

The above was a ping test in Kilcar, a town that was without 3G on any network.  I would love to have run a speed test, but have been unsuccessful in getting a single test to complete!

If I’m in trying to use Internet radio on the move or browsing the web on the bus, the phone will spend most of its time national roaming on Vodafone or O2, particularly in areas where their coverage is stronger than 3G such as between Killybegs and Donegal town.  A full 2G signal is no match for even a weak 1 bar 3G signal.

How to tell which network you’re using:  If ‘G’, ‘E’ or ‘R’ are shown next to the signal bars and the network name is ‘3’ (without a dot), then the phone is connected to a former Vodafone O2 2G mast.  If the network name is ‘3.’ (notice the dot after 3), then the phone is connected to an O2 mast.

Update 6th September 2015: Around the 26th August, Three made a change where an O2 mast connection no longer shows as roaming or with the dot after the ‘3’.  The only reliable way to tell now is with an App that shows the registered network operator.  For example, in the Elixir2 App, go into Information -> Telephony -> More information and check what it says for ‘Operator’.  27201 is Vodafone (which Three no longer uses) and 27202 is O2.

One nice secret feature with most Android phones is they have a hidden menu to select specific network types.  For example, the OnePlus can be set to use WCDMA (3G) only, LTE (4G) only or even both, effectively preventing the phone from using 2G, even in areas without 3G or 4G coverage.

To bring up the hidden menu, dial *#*#4636#*#*:

Hidden info menuWarning!!

If you see a ‘Select radio band’ menu, do not touch it!  On some phones, changing this setting will irreversibly limit the phone to the selected radio band until the proper radio firmware is flashed, which may be impossible if there is no radio firmware available.  For example, some phones such as various Blackberry and Sony models, this menu will present one option “USA Band”, which if selected will render the phone useless outside of the USA as this setting can only be reversed by flashing the radio firmware.

Touch “Phone information”, then scroll down to where it says “Set preferred network type:”

Hidden preferred network typesLook through the options for ‘WCDMA only’ or ‘LTE/WCDMA’ (if available):

Forcing LTE WCDMA only

Don’t choose ‘LTE only’ unless using a dual SIM phone with a separate SIM for calls/texts as it may block the ability to make & receive calls.  This option might be useful to check for such coverage or if is necessary to use 4G for a large file transfers.  Note that Three uses 800MHz (LTE band 20) for 4G in some areas which is not supported by the OnePlus One and some other phones.

As far as I’m aware of, Three does not support voice calls on its 4G network yet, which means the phone needs to drop to 3G when a call is received or made.  If the phone is currently on a 2G network, it will show no signal for about a minute until it connects to 3G (H or H+) or 4G (LTE).

HSPA plus reception on ThreeThe difference this makes to data performance is incredible such as on the bus as webpages load up a lot quicker with even a weak 3G signal than a full 2G signal.  Internet radio works anywhere I get 3G coverage, not just whenever the phone decides to switch back to 3G.

On some phones such as the OnePlus One, this hidden network setting must be set each time the phone is powered off or restarted, otherwise it reverts back to automatic 2G/3G/4G selection.  When this happens, the hidden network selection needs to be changed to something else (e.g. GSM only) first and then back to the WCDMA or WCDMA/LTE option.

A few manufacturers have disabled the secret menu for some reason.  For example, the secret menu is disabled in the lollipop Android release for the LG G2 Mini, but was accessible in its earlier android versions.

Update 8th July 2015:

While in Donegal town, my phone decided to stay ‘roaming’ on O2 2G despite strong 3G coverage there, so I decided to make a screen recording of the above process to show this in action:

Note: If you are on the move, I recommend changing the setting back to allow 2G (GSM) access before heading off, unless you know you get good 3G coverage along the route.  Otherwise calls will get cut off once the phone loses 3G coverage as this trick prevents the phone using 2G masts even for calls or texts.

Update 15th March 2017:

Quite a lot of people have asked why they never get 3G or 4G at all even with the phone set to WCDMA or LTE mode.  The most likely reason is that the phone is for the wrong region, such as a USA T-Mobile network phone imported into Europe or vice versa.

The USA and Europe use separate 3G and 4G (LTE) bands.  Most handsets are designed for a specific region and generally have just a subset of the bands for the other region.  For example, US T-Mobile handsets lack support for the 900MHz 3G band and the 800MHz 4G band used in Ireland.  As these bands are used extensively in rural locations, most GSM capable US phones will only get 2G coverage in rural areas and some display HSPA+ (3G) as 4G (which is not LTE).

Before purchasing a used phone, ask the seller where the phone was purchased if not mentioned in the listing.

Update 22nd March 2017:

I revised the above text to remove mentions of Vodafone.  Three no longer permits national roaming on Vodafone 2G masts in any part of the country, at least not that I am aware of.

With some dual SIM phones such as the OnePlus 2, this trick will work for SIM slot #1 only, which must also be set as the default SIM for data.  This can be useful when using one SIM for data only and another for calls and texts.  E.g. Meteor broadband SIM for 4G data, forced in LTE only mode and a Lyca SIM for calls.  See this article for tips on combining data and phone bundles.

135 thoughts on “How to force Three to use 3G and 4G only (Android)”

  1. please I use zte u817 but it only shows (e) all the time, after dialling the code and I selected wcdma only it shows no signal anymore, please how do I solve this?

  2. hii man im on cm 12.1 and it didn’t allow me to do this any help and i think the network are set to 3g/2g it changes frequently

  3. Hi sean… am from Nigeria.. my LG k210 does not work on 3G or 4G but the option is there. anytime i put it on 3G or 4G the network goes off. its only works on 2G network

  4. My Goinee F103 is not changing and I have text the code *#*#4636#*#* and it happens as you predicted but the sim is still at the same with me Etisalat it does change properly but with my Airtel its worse, preferred network is only GSM stubborn network

    1. I’m using gionee f103 my phone’s 3g and 4g network doesn’t change I try your prediction but it turns the network off and on again …still on the same 2g network what should I do please help me

  5. bhai meine sab try kiya par jab Lte mode select karta ho to wo fir se gsm pe chala jata he na yrr give mi solution na bbb plezz

  6. I have Samsung Galaxy Trend plus and I just updated my phone system android jellybean to marshmallow but its doesn’t change network mode to 4G

  7. ‘m facing issues sim slot 1 operates only in LTE mode. Only data connection is working I can’t make call or recieve call on that. I even tried*#*#4636#*#* n choose GSM only or WCDMA only option but it don’t show range. Or gets automatically selected to LATE only please help

    1. Try changing the default SIM for data setting, assuming this is a dual SIM phone. In the phone’s SIM & Network settings page, there should be three default SIM settings – one for call, one for messaging and one for mobile data. Try changing the default SIM for mobile data to SIM #2. This will usually force SIM #1 into GSM only mode. If the SIM #1 can now make calls, then try switching the default SIM for mobile data back to #1.

      If the SIM #1 is still not able to make calls even with SIM #2 set as default for mobile data, this likely means there is a problem with the phone’s radio firmware or hardware, such as an Android OS update that did not install properly. If it’s still under warranty, I suggest contacting the manufacturer or the store you got it. The only only other option would be to try getting hold of a radio ROM for your phone to flash. In this case I suggest asking on a specialised forum for help, such as the XDA Developers forum.

  8. can someone please tell me what to do,I am using a coolpad tip top air y71-811 and its always browsing on a 2G network despite the 4G/3G box is this because the region which the phone was imported from which is China has a different radio band from my country Nigeria and if yes how can I fix this without having more complications

  9. Great Article! I had trouble where Eir would force my handset off 3G/4G on to 2G even though I had a 4D signal, now this is solved.

    1. The Eir (Meteor) network seems to have cell hand-off issues. When I was a Meteor customer, I experienced this issue regularly where the phone would switch straight from 4G to E, even with a near-full 4G signal. I don’t have this issue with Vodafone. For comparison, the phone does not get booted off 4G until the signal drops to 1/4 signal, whereas I rarely saw a 4G signal strength fall below 3/4 signal on Meteor before it dropped me to H+ or straight to E.

      While I know Meteor/Eir support Wi-Fi calling, I’m not sure if they support VoLTE yet. If you have trouble making/receiving calls in LTE mode, I suggest forcing the phone in WCDMA mode (or WCDMA/LTE if available.) The forced LTE mode is more useful when uploading large files (e.g. video) or tethering.

  10. Hi
    Im using LG xpower 2,my 4G and 3G signal bars going suddenly down.and then i have to disconnect and connect the data connection .can gve me a solution for the.this happenng every 10 mn in my mobie

  11. Hi, I am Uzo and I am using a SM-G920f clone version of Galaxy S6 and I have tried switching to 3G via *#*#4636#*#* yet seems impossible. I don’t know if there is any possible way I can attain 3G. pls help

    1. Unfortunately some Samsung phones have disabled the menu from the dialler, so this is likely the case with clones based on the firmware. Try dialling *#2263#, which is a Samsung specific code for setting the modes/bands. As I do not own a Samsung phone, I have not tried any testing with this.

      One other thing you can try is get the App ‘Elixir 2‘. In the Elixir 2 App, go into ‘information’, touch ‘Telephony’ and touch ‘Turn WiMAX (4G) on’ in the pop-up menu. This will attempt to bring up the same hidden menu as dialling *#*#4636#*#* would.

  12. Am using vivo x3t the code is not working in my phone is there any other code for my phone its 2G and not 3G

  13. Hi Sean,
    Fantastic post. You saved my day. May good network coverage bless you all the time. Recently moved to Maynooth and couldnt believe my home in the middle of Maynooth doesnt have good 3g/ 4g . Your trock brought back H on my moto 3gen. Thanks a ton – Gokul

  14. Pls,am from Nigeria,am using gionee f103,it only on 2g,hav try ur method,but anytime I click on LTE&CDMA,it still remain on gsm only.

    1. Assuming the OnePlus3 has similar options to the OnePlus2, the default setting is “LTE/GSM auto (PRL)”. On my OnePlus2, rebooting the phone will also change it back and similarly by going into its settings menu, SIM & Network and setting “Preferred network type” to “2G/3G/4G (Automatic)”.

  15. *#*#4636#*#* in not working samsung
    grand 2 ! please help me ! 8gb 4g data in my vodafone sim but cant use ! plz help !

  16. I’m using htc desire 600 dual sim and i hv this network problem.i tried the *#*#4636#*#* code but when i try to change my network mode to gsm/wcdma/lte mode it automatically returns to gsm only.any help pls

  17. *#*#INFO#*#* only work with selected phone with qualcom soc. Some snapdragon phone must use 4G app. Not working with Mediatek or huawei one.
    2G nowday just used for call,sms and GPS tracker only. Basicly it just backup line. Normal internet no lomger work because telco refarming some 2G spectrum for 3G and/or 4G. Some 4G phone with dual 3G when lock 4G only second sim become 2G only. We need few year before phone manufacture or google/apple come out with 4G only network setting.

  18. Am usijg a gionee f103,its has 2g/3g/4g,but the 3g and 4g are not coming up,what do I do… I have followed your steps but still remain on gsm only

  19. The same thing with my Samsung GalaxyS3 ..i have struggled to turn on my data ..but its only showing ‘G’ and it is very slow .what can i do?? Am in Cameroon

  20. Good evening sir, I am using Gionee a1 plus in Nigeria, it have no selection for 4g only so I selected 4g,3g,2g it showed 4g but it disconnects every one minute without connecting back unless I put airplane mode on and off, pls help me with solution. Thanks.

  21. Simply download MTK Engineering Mode on Google Play. Go to Android settings and select Network Selecting. Choose either Sim 1 or Sim @ whatsoever. From there, you can choose LTE Only.

  22. I tried to put the code #*#4636#*#* but it’s not working,it’s went off.please give the code,model lg x power k210 am in Uganda,even when ever i insert memory card it persist show corrupt and format

  23. An update in September 2020: on the Three network VoLTE (voice over 4G) has been supported for some time now, even on phones not supplied by Three, which it says are not supported. On my phone the call list says whether a call was over LTE, I have no control over it. I think VoWiFi (voice over WiFi) is supported, but I haven’t yet got it working on my (non-3) phone. HTH

  24. I have an acer phone here. I didn’t experience any problem with my phone since i had it. The problem occured days ago and i don’t know how it came about. I have a dual sim. And it’s only now that i encountered this problem that when i turn on the mobile data of my Globe sim (3G auto), my smart sim becomes 2G even if i set it to 3G, it turns to “no service” that i can’t even recieve text or call. Please help

  25. I have honor 5A Huawei but the hidden code failed to display…… How is that solved
    Am in Uganda…….

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