What are the LTE and LTE+ symbols on my phone?

As a mobile phone user, you must have come across the LTE and LTE+ or 4G and 4G+ symbols on your mobile phone screen. When you see these symbols on your mobile phone, you can expect high-speed mobile data on your phone.

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and it is a 4G (fourth-generation) mobile network technology that enables maximum data speeds of up to 300 Mbps; LTE+ stands for LTE Advanced, and it is the enhanced version of LTE that can offer maximum data speeds of 1-3 Gbps and average speed of 60-80 Mbps.

— Short video that explains the LTE and LTE+ (4G or 4G+) symbols on your phone—

The LTE technology was originally introduced in the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Oslo in 2009. Since then, it has seen several enhancements and has been one of the most widely deployed cellular technologies worldwide. While the latest cellular technology today is New Radio (NR), which enables 5G (fifth-generation mobile networks), LTE is expected to stay for a long time alongside 5G NR.

What does LTE mean on my phone?

When you see LTE on your mobile phone, you can expect high-speed mobile internet (data) that allows you to download and upload files, images and videos much quicker than the earlier 3G UMTS/HSPA and 3G CDMA2000 networks. LTE can offer you an internet experience that is similar to that with WiFi.

LTE is a cellular technology that enables the fourth generation of mobile networks, usually expressed as 4G. It is the evolution of third-generation mobile networks, including 3G UMTS and CDMA2000. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution of mobile networks, and it is a technology that streamlined the fourth generation migration path for third-generation UMTS and CDMA2000 technologies. While the key benefit of LTE over earlier mobile technologies is its ability to provide considerably higher data rates, it also enables IP-based voice calls. The 2G and 3G networks provide voice calls over traditional circuit-switched networks. LTE can use the packet-switched part of the network to facilitate voice calls and mobile data.

What does LTE+ mean on my phone?

When you see LTE+ on your mobile phone, you can expect high-speed mobile internet (data) that allows you to download and upload files, images and videos quicker than the original LTE network. LTE+ represents LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro which can offer 60 to 80 Mbps of average download speeds.

Since its initial launch in 2009, LTE has gone through multiple enhancements. The first enhancement was LTE-Advanced which introduced new technologies to improve the channel bandwidth, antenna configuration and spectral efficiency in the LTE networks. LTE-Advanced or LTE-A enhancement improves the maximum download data rates to up to 1 Gbps. Later, another enhancement, LTE-Advanced Pro was introduced which adds further improvements to the channel bandwidth, antenna configuration and spectral efficiency to increase the maximum data rates to up to 3 Gbps. enhancements in the form of LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro. Have a look at my detailed post that shows the difference between LTE-Advanced, LTE-Advanced Pro and 5G.

Are LTE and 4G the same or is there a difference?

The terms 4G and LTE are synonymous and are used interchangeably. 4G is an umbrella terminology covering technologies that can meet the requirements specific to the fourth generation of mobile networks. LTE provides the 4G migration path with full backwards compatibility to all key 3G technologies.

The fourth generation of mobile networks can be enabled by two technologies, LTE and WiMax. LTE is however the main technology that has been used for worldwide 4G network deployments. The specifications for mobile networks are documented by the standards organisation, 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project). 3GPP specified LTE in release 8, and since then, there have been updates, including LTE-Advanced as part of 3GPP release 10 and LTE-Advanced Pro as per release 13. The table below summarises this concept nicely.

LTELTE-AdvancedLTE-Advanced Pro
4G technology4G technology4G technology
3GPP Release 83GPP Release 103GPP Release 13
Maximum download speed: 300 MbpsMaximum download speed: 1 GbpsMaximum download speed: 3 Gbps
Average download speed: 15-20 MbpsAverage download speed: 50-80 MbpsAverage download speed: 60-100 Mbps
—Table showing the fundamental differences between LTE and LTE+ (LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro)—

How is LTE on my phone different from home WiFi ?

LTE is a cellular technology that uses nationwide mobile networks to connect your cell phone to telco services including voice, texts and internet in indoor and outdoor locations; home WiFi networks generally use a fixed fibre or DSL line as a backhaul to create indoor wireless internet coverage.

LTE and WiFi are two different network technologies; however, there are similarities in the use cases they address. LTE is a cellular technology that enables 4G mobile services for 3G UMTS and CDMA2000 networks. LTE makes use of the nationwide network of cellular base stations owned by mobile operators to provide coverage on SIM-enabled devices such as mobile phones, tablets, smartwatches etc. LTE employs licensed frequency bands for the transmission of cellular services wirelessly. WiFi, on the other hand, is a fixed wireless technology specified by the IEEE 802.11 standards. WiFi employs unlicensed frequency bands and is usually transmitted via a WiFi router for creating wireless internet coverage. As LTE is cellular technology, it also enables PSTN connectivity which means it can support voice calls and SMS in addition to the mobile internet.

What does LTE mean for 2G and 3G networks?

LTE is a fourth-generation cellular technology but it does not replace any existing 2G and 3G technologies. In mobile networks, a new generation does not immediately replace the old generation but co-exists until a time comes when the older generation gets gradually phased out. Currently, LTE co-exists with GSM, UMTS, IS-95 and CDMA2000 and will continue to evolve alongside the New Radio technology for 5G.

2G3G4G
199120012009
GSM and IS-95 (CDMA)UMTS and CDMA2000LTE
Enhancements: GPRS and EDGE for GSM; IS-95 A and B for IS-95Enhancements: HSPA and HSPA+ for UMTS; EVDO Rev A & B for CDMA2000LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro
—How does LTE fit with other cellular technologies?—

Does LTE use my mobile data for all services?

LTE is a data network that is based on packet-switching and uses IP (Internet Protocol) for all services including voice calls, SMS and internet. The voice calls and SMS in 4G LTE use the VoLTE technology but there is also a 2G/3G backup option called circuit-switched fallback.

Before the fourth generation, there were two key parts to the mobile network architecture in 2G and 3G networks: circuit-switched and packet-switched network nodes. The circuit-switched part is for voice calls and SMS, whereas the packet-switched part is for mobile data (internet). 4G LTE networks are fully packet-switched and use data for all services including voice, SMS and internet. The mobile core network in LTE has a node called IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) that enables Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology to facilitate packet-switched voice calls and SMS. From a billing and charging perspective for you as a customer, the only service that consumes your mobile data allowance is when you use the mobile internet. While VoLTE technically also uses data, mobile operators bill you for your voice calls as part of your voice minutes allowance and not your data allowance. Generally speaking, if you are on an LTE network and using internet services such as watching a Youtube video, you will be consuming your mobile data, which will come out of your allocated data allowance. If you are connected to the LTE network but in a location where you also have fully functional WiFi, then your phone will use WiFi instead of mobile data for all internet services.

When should I see the LTE symbol on my phone?

Your mobile phone should by default show the LTE, 4G, LTE+ or 4G+ symbols because 4G LTE is the primary connection type in most countries with mature mobile networks. You may however see H, H+ or E symbols if you are in locations where 4G network coverage is not great.

If you have a SIM-enabled device such as a smartphone (e.g. iPhone), as soon as you insert a SIM card, your smartphone will make attempts to join a mobile network. The mobile connectivity between your smartphone and the mobile network uses cellular technologies. LTE is a cellular technology just like UMTS, CDMA2000, GSM and IS-95. When your mobile phone is powered on and not in ‘flight mode’, it will connect to a mobile network as long as your SIM and phone are not defective. 4G LTE is the primary cellular technology today, and it is the default technology that a mobile phone connects to in most countries with mature cellular networks. When you connect your phone to a fixed WiFi network, it utilises the WiFi network for all things data, e.g. web browsing, YouTube videos, WhatsApp messages etc. As soon as there are any fluctuations in the connectivity or quality of the WiFi network, the phone may switch to the cellular network. When you are on a trip abroad, your mobile phone goes to “roaming” mode and depending on your operator, you may or may not be served by the mobile network. If a mobile operator in the country you are visiting has a roaming agreement with your operator to connect you to 4G, then you can expect to see the LTE or 4G symbols. I have written a dedicated post on roaming and international calling if you are unsure about the differences.

Should LTE be on or off on my phone?

Your cell phone should automatically connect to the LTE network without you having to manually switch it on or off. However, if you are using a 3G feature phone instead of a smartphone, or if your smartphone is locked to a 2G/3G network, then the LTE technology will not be available on your device.

In normal circumstances, when you are either at home or out and about, you are likely to keep your mobile phone turned on. Depending on your cellular coverage, the phone will automatically connect to your mobile operator’s 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G network. If you are connected to WiFi, your phone will only use the LTE technology for data services if there are issues with your WiFi network. If you are travelling abroad or just concerned about data usage, you can either restrict your mobile phone to a 2G/3G network or just switch off mobile data, as shown in the pictures below. With the latter, your mobile phone will not connect to a mobile network for data, but you will still be able to make and receive phone calls. If you switch off mobile data or 4G, your VoLTE (Voice over LTE) calls won’t work.

How to enable or disable LTE on your mobile phone?

As a mobile subscriber, you may want to keep LTE enabled all the time; however, there may be situations when you want to find out how to enable or disable 4G on your Android phone or Apple iPhone. For example, if you are trying to reduce your data consumption when not connected to a WiFi network, you may decide to lock your mobile data connectivity to 2G/3G networks. Here are some ways to do it:

LTE On/Off on a Huawei Android phone

LTE On/Off on an iPhone: Mobile Data –>Mobile Data Options–>Voice & Data –> 4G or 3G selection

Conclusion

The LTE and LTE+ symbols on your mobile phone show that you are connected to a 4G (fourth-generation) mobile cellular network. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the technology that enables the 4G cellular services. For example, in some mobile phones, iPhone and Google Pixel, you may see the 4G symbol instead of LTE and LTE+. LTE is the original technology standard that was initially introduced in 2009. The LTE+ symbol represents both LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro which are enhancements added to the initial LTE network. LTE enables maximum download data speeds of up to 300 Mbps and average speeds of 15-20 Mbps. LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro can enable peak download speeds of up to 1 and 3 Gbps respectively. When you see the LTE+ symbol or 4G+ symbol, you may expect average download speeds of around 60-100 Mbps. I have written a dedicated post that summarises the results of multiple speed tests we carried out in the UK to gauge the average speed of LTE and LTE Advanced.

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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