What does “LTE” mean on a phone?

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Curious about the LTE symbol on your smartphone? It is one of many wireless standards that allow you to communicate on the go. But what does LTE mean and how is it different from 5G?

to 4G standard

LTE or Long Term Evolution is a 4G wireless broadband standard used by mobile phone operators to offer data and voice services on your phone. Provides faster Internet speeds and lower latency than 3G. As a result, you can stream videos, play games, and perform high-speed data transfers right in the palm of your hand.

LTE is mainly used in smartphones and mobile hotspots. But you’ll also find the technology in some smartwatches, tablets, laptops, and other devices.

Although LTE is often marketed as 4G LTE, it does not technically meet the criteria for a 4G wireless service set by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R). ITU-R is a unit of the International Telecommunications Union and is responsible for developing communications standards, such as 4G. According to ITU-R, a true 4G network offers maximum data transmission speeds of at least 100 Mbps while moving and at least 1 Gbps while stationary.

However, when mobile operators were unable to achieve these speeds, the ITU-R relaxed the requirements so that LTE could be marketed as a 4G technology. ITU-R said that any wireless technology that provides “a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities” over the initial 3G network could also be considered 4G.

What are LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro?

LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro are enhanced versions of the LTE standard and are capable of providing even faster internet speeds. Theoretically, LTE Advanced can offer a maximum data download speed of 1 Gbps and Advanced Pro can reach up to 3 Gbps. As a result, both LTE Advanced and Advanced Pro meet the technical requirements for true 4G.

Fortunately, both LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro are backward compatible and regular LTE devices can work with these networks. But sadly, you won’t get the enhanced benefits.

Many LTE networks around the world have already upgraded to LTE Advanced. And it’s represented by the LTE+, 4G+, or LTE-A symbols on your phone, instead of the usual LTE or 4G ones.

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How does LTE work?

4G phone
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Cellular standards have traditionally used both circuit-switched and packet-switched networks to provide voice and data services to their consumers. While a circuit-switched network establishes a dedicated connection to the person at the other end and maintains the connection until a call is completed, a packet-switched network, on the other hand, uses data packets to transmit information from a device to another over the digital network. These data packets are free to take the path of least resistance to reach their destination and do not need a dedicated line.

Unlike 2G and 3G technologies, LTE uses a completely packet-switched network. As a result, there is no circuit switching to make voice calls. Instead, VoLTE or LTE voice-over is used to handle voice calls. That said, LTE does support Circuit Switched Alternate Option (CSFB) to enable voice calls over existing 3G and 2G networks when a phone doesn’t support VoLTE or LTE isn’t available. In fact, during early LTE deployments, operators used CSFB frequently. But VoLTE is quite common now.

LTE makes efficient use of existing network bandwidth to provide faster internet speeds and low latency. This is possible thanks to technologies such as MIMO or Multiple Input Multiple Output, Carrier Aggregation, multi-carrier modulation and more.

LTE vs. 5G

Someone running a 5G speed test.
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Although LTE remains a dominant cellular technology standard around the world, 5G or fifth-generation wireless broadband technologies are rapidly gaining traction. Several wireless carriers around the world, including in North America, are rolling out their 5G networks that promise higher internet speed, reliability, and bandwidth.

So with a 5G network, you can expect to upload or download data at a much higher speed than LTE. It will also allow you to enjoy data- and bandwidth-intensive applications and services, such as cloud gaming, high-resolution streaming, etc.

In theory, fifth-generation networks are capable of offering download speeds of up to 10 Gbps. However, these maximum data rates are only possible with high-frequency millimeter wave 5G bands. 5G can also use the frequency bands below 6 GHz, but internet speeds in these frequency bands will not be as high as mmWave 5G, although still higher than LTE speeds.

And since 5G networks are still in their growth phase, it will take time for them to mature as LTE has over the years. Also, as 5G is a new technology and is not backwards compatible, like any previous network generation, you will need a 5G compatible device to experience it. So, for example, your LTE phone will not be able to connect to a 5G network.

In general, while 5G offers several benefits over LTE, it is not yet ready to replace LTE. So for the next few years, at least, we’ll see 5G and LTE co-exist and complement each other.

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