Do you ever wonder what sort of average speed you can get with 4G LTE networks? 4G is the fourth generation of mobile networks that uses a cellular technology called LTE to offer high-speed mobile data services that were previously only possible through fixed broadband networks. If you see any advertisements from mobile operators, you will likely come across pictures of happy-looking people watching HD videos on multiple devices. However, it is important to note that having a 4G connection doesn’t automatically guarantee that you will definitely get the superior 4G speeds. It is important to make a distinction between peak data speeds and average data speeds. The average 4G data speed is what you normally get on your mobile device, and the peak 4G speed is the maximum speed that is theoretically possible.
What is the difference between peak and average speeds?
The peak speed of a mobile connection is the maximum data rate that can be extracted from the radio signal when using the highest possible network configuration. For example, with LTE networks, we can combine multiple channels through a concept called carrier aggregation, configure different levels of QAM modulation in LTE/LTE-A/LTE-A-Pro, and employ various antenna settings to get the maximum possible bit rate. The maximum bit rate is what is sent through the cellular towers based on the network configuration. The bit rate received at the other end (e.g. on the mobile phone) is subject to the nature of the radio signal, including obstacles, other radio signals, and the number of simultaneous users etc. All that reduces the overall achievable data speed that mobile phone users get. The best chances of getting the maximum speed would be if you were located very close to the cellular tower of your mobile operator and if your device was the only device being served by the relevant LTE tower. Since the likelihood of that happening isn’t high, especially in busy hours when many people use the network simultaneously, the real-life speeds or average speeds are considerably lower. Let’s first check the maximum speed that 4G LTE networks can offer before diving into real-life speeds.
What is the max speed of 4G LTE?
The maximum speed of 4G LTE networks depends on the network configuration. There can be various combinations of how the channel bandwidth and modulation techniques can be used. When a 20 MHz channel is used with modulation of 64 QAM ( Quadrature amplitude modulation), top speeds of up to 300 Mbps can be achieved in the download and 75 Mbps in the uplink. The downlink data rate helps with downloads, and the uplink data rate supports the uploads. LTE is more efficient than 3G technologies, and it also offers lower latency than 3G UMTS and CDMA2000 networks. LTE networks have seen various enhancements through LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro to improve the maximum speeds to up to 1 Gbps and 3Gbps, respectively. The average achievable speeds are considerably lower, which is what we will look at in this post.
How fast is 4G speed in Mbps
Let’s now look at the average 4G LTE speeds that we tested primarily on two of the top UK mobile operators’ networks. Our speed tests used pay-monthly SIMs from five (5) randomly selected mobile operators around the world. However, most of these tests were carried out in the UK in Berkshire, Reading. The first table shows the download and upload speeds we got on LTE-Advanced (4G+) in various locations within Reading UK and Scarbrough, Canada. The other table shows the download and upload speeds on an LTE network (4G). As you can see in the table below, the best download speed we got was just under 90 Mbps on LTE-Advanced and 58 Mbps on the normal LTE network. The average download speed for LTE-Advanced (4G+) was around 66 Mbps and 17 Mbps for LTE (4G).
|#||LTE Technology||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)||Latency/Ping (milliseconds)||Country/City|
|1||LTE+/4G+||89.20 Mbps||29.60 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|2||LTE+/4G+||84.40 Mbps||18.50 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|3||LTE+/4G+||82.50 Mbps||24.00 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|4||LTE+/4G+||80.30 Mbps||21.10 Mbps||19.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|5||LTE+/4G+||80.10 Mbps||15.50 Mbps||3.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|6||LTE+/4G+||79.70 Mbps||15.00 Mbps||24.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|7||LTE+/4G+||75.30 Mbps||15.10 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|8||LTE+/4G+||72.70 Mbps||15.10 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|9||LTE+/4G+||64.70 Mbps||6.72 Mbps||29.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|10||LTE+/4G+||62.90 Mbps||5.80 Mbps||41.0 ms||Canada, Scarborough|
|11||LTE+/4G+||59.00 Mbps||0.65 Mbps||26.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|12||LTE+/4G+||57.00 Mbps||21.10 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|13||LTE+/4G+||44.90 Mbps||8.13 Mbps||47.0 ms||Canada, Scarborough|
|14||LTE+/4G+||38.90 Mbps||18.50 Mbps||23.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|15||LTE+/4G+||35.70 Mbps||18.50 Mbps||21.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|16||LTE+/4G+||31.20 Mbps||19.60 Mbps||20.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|#||LTE Technology||Download Speed (Mbps)||Upload Speed (Mbps)||Latency/Ping (milliseconds)||Country/City|
|1||LTE||58.40 Mbps||17.90 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|2||LTE||26.40 Mbps||2.54 Mbps||42.0 ms||Canada, Scarborough|
|3||LTE||26.10 Mbps||1.82 Mbps||47.0 ms||Canada, Scarborough|
|4||LTE||25.00 Mbps||9.70 Mbps||4.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|5||LTE||24.50 Mbps||15.30 Mbps||30.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|6||LTE||23.00 Mbps||3.56 Mbps||31.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|7||LTE||19.20 Mbps||14.80 Mbps||26.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|8||LTE||17.10 Mbps||17.70 Mbps||24.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|9||LTE||16.10 Mbps||12.70 Mbps||29.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|10||LTE||16.00 Mbps||15.90 Mbps||32.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|11||LTE||15.90 Mbps||11.50 Mbps||33.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|12||LTE||14.70 Mbps||1.29 Mbps||3.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|13||LTE||14.30 Mbps||7.83 Mbps||74.8 ms||Pakistan, Karachi|
|14||LTE||13.60 Mbps||11.70 Mbps||3.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|15||LTE||13.00 Mbps||12.70 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|16||LTE||12.50 Mbps||24.60 Mbps||4.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|17||LTE||11.60 Mbps||21.50 Mbps||3.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|18||LTE||9.96 Mbps||6.88 Mbps||34.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|19||LTE||7.44 Mbps||12.80 Mbps||34.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|20||LTE||7.39 Mbps||14.60 Mbps||2.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|21||LTE||6.52 Mbps||6.97 Mbps||3.0 ms||UK, Reading|
|22||LTE||6.40 Mbps||7.07 Mbps||77.9 ms||Pakistan, Karachi|
Why does the actual 4G speed vary so much?
Your mobile device has to do a lot of work to help you perform basic tasks e.g. searching for something on Google or making a call. The mobile device connects to the cellular tower closest to your location which then connects you to the rest of the mobile network to help you enjoy the services that you are entitled to. There are many variables in this process that can impact your service quality and hence the data speeds.
Mobile operators install cellular towers nationwide to provide you with the best possible coverage. However, that doesn’t mean that aren’t any coverage holes. If you live in a not-so-urban area where there aren’t that many cellular towers, you may sometimes experience poor network coverage. When the signal quality on your phone starts to get worse, the network can decide to put you on the next available cell (transceiver) with better signal strength. As a result, you may end up on a cell with less superior speed e.g. 3G network (with 3G, H or H+ symbol) or even 2G network (G or E symbol).
In situations when you are not stationary e.g. watching an online video during a train journey, your serving cell keeps changing as you change locations. In that scenario, there is a possibility that you start watching the video in a busy city with LTE-Advanced (4G+) and as your train enters a 2G-only area, your video streaming starts to become challenging. Also, just because you are in a 4G coverage area doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have the best 4G speeds. For example, it could be that your operator has 4G (LTE) but not LTE Advanced (4G+).
In addition to the network coverage, the other, very important aspect is the network capacity. Network capacity is basically the ability of a mobile operator to have enough resources to serve the customers on its network. You may notice in busy hours that sometimes you see the 4G or LTE symbol on your phone but the data speeds are still not as expected. This usually happens when the network is fully loaded and capacity is stretched. Mobile operators do have network monitoring systems in place to keep track of these issues. However, if you find yourself in this situation often, you may contact your service provider to get professional advice.
Sometimes the speed can also be linked to your device especially if you are using a relatively older phone. For example, if you are using a phone that supports LTE but not LTE+ or if you have a 4G SIM but not an LTE compatible phone. The quality or sensitivity of the antennas of your smartphone can also impact your data speeds when transmitting or receiving 4G signals.
The average download and upload speeds of the 4G LTE networks can vary considerably depending on network configurations and device categories. In our speed tests carried out primarily in the UK in July 2020, we got an average download speed of around 17 Mbps and an average upload speed of 12 Mbps on 4G LTE networks. With LTE Advanced (LTE+ or 4G+), the average download speed increased to 66 Mbps, and the average upload speed moved up to 17 Mbps.
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. But sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and challenges given how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.