The “E” symbol: What does the E on your mobile phone mean?

In 2022, it may not be as common to frequently come across the E symbol on your mobile phone screen, but it can happen if you live in the countryside or in an area secluded from large population centres. You may also encounter the E sign on your phone if you are in a room inside a large building with thick brick walls, for example, a hotel building or hospital where the 5G, 4G or 3G signals can just not get in.

The E on your mobile phone is for EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution), which offers maximum download speeds of up to 384 kbps and average speeds of 130 to 200 kbps. EDGE is a second-generation (2G GSM) network enhancement that improves the data rates of the GPRS technology through EGPRS.

Average download and upload speeds to expect when you see the E symbol on your phone

The E on your 2G GSM mobile phone is for EDGE

E represents the EDGE enhancement which stands for Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution or Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution. EDGE was an enhancement made to the 2G GSM networks to improve the data rates for GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and HSCSD (High-Speed Circuit Switched Data).

When you see the E symbol on your mobile phone, you are being served by the EDGE enhancement within the second generation of mobile networks, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). Technology enhancements in GSM that preceded EDGE are CSD (Circuit-Switched Data), HSCSD (High-Speed Circuit-Switched Data) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). CSD and HSCSD are older circuit-switched technologies in GSM networks for enabling mobile data that are no longer available. However, GPRS is still around and can be seen on your mobile phone as the G symbol. The EDGE enhancement that improves the data rates for GPRS is called E-GPRS or Enhanced General Packet Radio Service. As part of the GPRS enhancement, EDGE or E can enable peak download data rates of up to 384 kbps. In real life, though, the average download speeds of between 130 kbps and 200 kbps are possible when you see the E symbol on the top of your mobile phone screen. GPRS and EDGE use packet-switched mobile data technology, which uses shared timeslots in a GSM network to enable efficient mobile data (internet). EDGE is three times capable of providing higher data rates than GPRS because it uses a superior modulation scheme. I have written a dedicated post on the difference between GPRS, EGPRS and EDGE, which you can read for more information on this topic. If you are unclear about the circuit-switching and packet-switching approaches to mobile internet, check out this dedicated post explaining why you should get higher data rates with packet-switched cellular technologies. Please have a look at the tables below to see how EDGE compares with its predecessors and successors.

HSCSD (no particular symbol)G symbolE symbol
HSCSD – High-Speed Circuit Switched DataGPRS – General Packet Radio ServiceEDGE – Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution or
EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution
Peak download speed: 64 kbpsPeak download speed: 171.2 kbpsPeak download speed: 384 kbps
Average download speed: 15-20 kbpsAverage download speed: 30-50 kbpsAverage download speed: 130 -200 kbps
Second-Generation (2G)Second-Generation (2G)Second-Generation (2G)
Cellular technology: GSMCellular technology: GSMCellular technology: GSM
Circuit-Switched data technology(CS)Packet-Switched data technology(PS)Packet-Switched data technology(PS)
—EDGE and its predecessors: G symbol vs E symbol vs HSCSD—

E symbolHH+
EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution or
EDGE – Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution
HSPA – High-Speed Packet AccessHSPA+ – Evolved High-Speed Packet Access
Peak download speed: 384 kbpsPeak download speed: 14.4 MbpsPeak download speed: 42 Mbps
Average download speed: 130 -200 kbpsAverage download speed: 3-5 MbpsAverage download speed: 5-8 Mbps
Second-Generation (2G)Third-Generation (3G)Third-Generation (3G)
Cellular technology: GSMCellular technology: UMTSCellular technology: UMTS
Packet-Switched data technology(PS)Packet-Switched data technology(PS)Packet-Switched data technology(PS)
—EDGE and its successors: E symbol vs H symbol vs H+ symbol—

Why is my phone showing E instead of 4G or LTE?

Your mobile phone will show E instead of 3G, H, H+, 4G, 4G+, LTE or LTE+ if you are in an area with poor cellular coverage, forcing your phone to search for signals from 2G GSM mobile network. A phone shows E (EDGE) in locations secluded from population centres or areas with poor indoor coverage.

When your phone is in service, you are generally served by the most widely available mobile network, 4G LTE. While your cellular coverage depends on your mobile operator and geographical location, 4G LTE networks are responsible for primary cellular coverage in most parts of the world today. However, there will be occasions when you are in remote areas with poor 4G coverage, in which case you may end up on 3G or even 2G networks. When your mobile phone is connected to a cellular network, your phone shows the network technology serving you. That is indicated on your mobile phone by symbols like E, H, H+, LTE, 4G, 4G+ etc., as shown in the picture below.

Mobile phone showing the E symbol for EDGE
Mobile phone showing the H+ symbol for HSPA+ (Evolved HSPA)

What other network connection symbols you see on the phone?

Whenever your mobile phone is connected to a mobile network, it will display the type of network connection through the associated symbol. You are likely to see symbols including G, E, 3G, H, H+, 4G, 4G+, LTE, LTE+ and 5G on your mobile phone screen.

Your mobile phone always indicates which type of mobile network technology you are connected to. For example, if the 4G LTE technology serves your phone, it will either show LTE and LTE+ symbols or 4G and 4G+ symbols. The LTE + and 4G+ symbols represent LTE-Advanced, which is a technology that enhances the original LTE standard. You will likely see the E symbol when your phone is on a 2G (GSM) network. The table below shows the complete list of all the symbols you can see on your mobile phone. I have written a dedicated post on the peak and average speeds you get when connected to the following 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G technologies.

SymbolNetwork GenerationNetwork Technology
5G5GNew Radio – NR
4G+ or LTE+4GLTE-Advanced or LTE Advanced Pro
4G or LTE4GLong Term Evolution – LTE
H+3GEvolved High-Speed Packet Access -HSPA+ (UMTS)
H3GHigh-Speed Packet Access – HSPA (UMTS)
3G3GUniversal Mobile Telecommunications System-UMTS
E2GEnhanced Data for Global Evolution – EDGE (GSM)
G2GGeneral Packet Radio Service – GPRS (GSM)

—Complete list of network connectivity symbols on your phone—

How do I get rid of the E symbol on my mobile phone?

You may be able to get rid of the E on your phone by following a two-step approach: first, make sure you are well-positioned to get decent cellular coverage i.e. you are in a geographical area with indoor 3G, 4G or 5G coverage; secondly, make sure that your device is not locked to the 2G network.

When you are connected to the mobile network, you always want to see the symbol for the latest cellular technology supported by your mobile phone. For example, if you have a 4G phone, you want to see symbols like 4G, 4G+, LTE or LTE+. If you have a 3G phone, you want to see symbols like 3G, H or H+. If you are seeing the E symbol on the phone, the first and most logical approach to get rid of it is to check whether you are in a geographical area with decent 3G, 4G or 5G cellular coverage. If you are in an area with poor coverage, i.e. no 3G, 4G or 5G coverage indoors, then it is highly likely that you will see the E symbol no matter which device you use.

However, if you are in an area with the required cellular coverage, you may see the E symbol because your device may be locked to the 2G network. You first want to check whether your mobile phone automatically selects the latest network technology or is locked to a particular technology. You can do that by going into the phone settings. For example, on a Huawei Android phone, if you go to Settings->Mobile network->Mobile data->Preferred network mode, you should see the following screen. In this example, the phone is locked to 3G/2G, which means it can switch automatically between 2G and 3G, but it will never switch to 4G unless we change the setting to 4G/3G/2G auto.

Preferred network mode on a Huawei Android phone

You can do the same on an iPhone by going into Settings->Mobile Data->Mobile Data Options->Voice & Data. That will take you to the following screen, where you can select 3G or 4G. If your phone shows a tick next to 3G, that means it is locked to 3G and 2G and will never show the 4G symbol unless you change the setting to 4G. When you select 4G, it does not mean that you will always get 4G; it just means that you are likely to get the 4G service whenever you are in an area with 4G coverage. For example, if you are in a location where you only have 2G/3G coverage, your phone will select whichever of these networks is available for your device. However, when your phone settings are locked to the 4G option, your phone will automatically attempt to connect to 4G whenever possible.

Preferred network mode on an iPhone

Conclusion

The E Symbol on your mobile phone screen refers to EDGE, which is an enhancement in GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks that improves the achievable data rates for the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) technology. EDGE stands for Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution, but it also stands for Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution. Irrespective of which full form or definition you follow, the point is that it is an enhancement that improves the data rates for the underlying technology it is built for. EDGE is built for GPRS and HSCSD (High-Speed Circuit Switched Data) technologies in 2G GSM networks. The part of EDGE that is relevant today is E-GPRS (Enhanced General Packet Radio Service) which is an improvement for the GPRS network. When you are in a geographical area where the 4G LTE and 3G UMTS network coverage is a bit patchy or non-existent, you are likely to see an “E” symbol popping up on your mobile phone screen. EDGE (E) can offer maximum data rates of up to 384 kbps and the average achievable data rates of 130 to 200 kbps.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or 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 the challenges considering 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 you 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 the product overview and product roadmap.

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