As a mobile phone user, you must have come across situations when you notice symbols like LTE, LTE+, 4G and 4G+ on your cell phone screen like the screenshots below. This post will explain what 4G LTE means, what LTE stands for, and how it fits with the new 5G technology, which has already been launched in many parts of the world. Let’s dive right in.
LTE or 4G LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and it is a fourth-generation mobile communications standard that enables 4G cellular services. LTE was introduced in 2009 to migrate 3G UMTS and CDMA2000 networks to 4G, and it has seen enhancements in the form of LTE-Advanced, and LTE-Advanced Pro. 4G networks can provide peak (theoretical) download speeds of up to 300 Mbps with LTE, 1Gbps with LTE-Advanced and 3Gbps with LTE-Advanced Pro.
4G vs. LTE: Is there a difference between 4G and LTE?
The fourth generation of mobile networks, 4G, is the next evolutionary step after the third generation 3G mobile networks. While with 3G, we saw two key technologies UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems) and CDMA2000, that could enable 3G; with 4G, we have a more streamlined approach. LTE is the primary technology that provides a 4G migration path to UMTS and CDMA2000 based 3G networks. Even though WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is also capable of addressing the 4G network requirements, LTE has been the primary path for most 4G deployments around the globe. The terms 4G and LTE are used interchangeably even on our mobile phone screens because LTE is the only technology that effectively represents the 4G connectivity.
4G is an umbrella terminology that is enabled by the various releases of LTE. LTE, LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro are all fourth-generation, 4G, mobile cellular technologies. LTE networks were first introduced in 2009 as per the specifications in release 8 of 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project). Since then, the LTE technology has seen consistent enhancements, and it will continue to evolve alongside the fifth generation of mobile networks. LTE+ is just a symbol we see on our mobile phones that represents LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro. LTE-Advanced was specified in 3GPP release 10, whereas LTE-Advanced Pro was specified in release 13. The fifth generation of mobile networks is enabled by a different technology, called NR or New Radio, as specified in 3GPP releases 15 and 16. The non-standalone variant or mode of 5G networks (NSA) relies on the core part of the LTE network to offer its services, but it uses NR radio technology. More information about NSA mode can be found in this dedicated post. You can check out 3GPP’s website by clicking here.
On cell phones, including iPhone, Android, Windows or any other SIM-enabled devices, the fourth-generation mobile cellular technology is displayed by LTE, LTE+ or 4G and 4G+. If your cell phone shows the LTE or 4G symbol, it means the basic LTE network is serving your phone. However, if your phone shows 4G+ or LTE+, it means you are served by LTE-Advanced or LTE-Advanced Pro networks. The theoretical maximum download speeds of LTE, LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro networks are up to 300Mbps, 1Gbps and 3Gbps. The average speeds are considerably lower and mainly in tens of Mbps. In Reading UK, we conducted some tests in July 2020 using SIM cards from two leading mobile operators. The average download speeds were around 17 Mbps with LTE and around 66 Mbps with LTE Advanced. Have a look at this post to check out the detailed test results for upload and download speeds. In addition to high-speed internet on the mobile phone, 4G LTE technology allows basic mobile services, including voice calls, text messaging (SMS), picture messaging (MMS) etc.
What LTE means for 5G?
If you have read this far, it must be clear to you that LTE is a 4G technology, and 5G is enabled by another technology called New Radio or NR. However, LTE plays a key role in the deployment and evolution of 5G networks also. As we briefly touched upon earlier, the initial 5G networks use a model where the radio part of the network is based on the New Radio (NR) technology, but the core part of the network utilises the existing 4G core network which is the Evolved Packet Core or EPC. This model is called the non-standalone model (NSA), which is not an end-to-end 5G network. The full end-to-end 5G networks under the umbrella of standalone mode (SA) use the cloud-native 5G Core Network or 5GCN. In this way, there is a physical relationship between the LTE core network and the 5G radio network as part of the non-standalone deployment model where a user gets connected to both 5G and 4G networks at the same time to benefit from higher data rates. 5G NR and 4G LTE will co-exist for a long time to deliver on many existing and future use cases—more information about 5G and LTE in this post.
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.