LTE stands for Long Term Evolution of mobile networks. It is a 4G (fourth generation) technology that allows cell phone users to enjoy much higher internet speeds than the earlier 3G cellular technologies like HSPA and EVDO. On cell phones, including iPhone, Android, Windows or any other SIM-enabled device, it is displayed on the device screen as LTE, LTE+, 4G or 4G+.
LTE is a mobile cellular technology that enables fourth-generation mobile network services. But what does the fourth generation of mobile networks mean? Think of it as a mobile version of superfast broadband services. The theoretical maximum download and upload LTE speeds are in the order of Gbps, but in real life, the average achievable speeds with LTE networks are in multiples of tens of Mbps. In Reading UK where we are, we did some tests in July 2020 using SIM cards from two leading mobile operators. The download speeds were in the region of 17 Mbps with basic LTE and around 66 Mbps with LTE Advanced. When you see the LTE or 4G symbol on your cell phone, you are being served by the original or basic LTE technology. On the other hand, when you see LTE+ or 4G+, then you are being served by LTE-Advanced or LTE-Advanced Pro. To be clear, LTE is a lot more than just high-speed internet. It enables all basic mobile communications services including voice calls, text messaging (SMS), picturing messaging (MMS) etc. in addition to the high data speeds. Check out this post to look at the details of the 4G speed tests we did in the UK last year. You can also get information on LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro in this post.
Are 4G and LTE the same thing?
Yes, 4G and LTE are the same thing. 4G is a set of requirements and specifications as to what mobile networks should deliver to be called 4G, and LTE is the technology that enables 4G. If you dig into the details, you may come across an additional 4G technology WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). Still, WiMAX never took up in terms of being the mainstream 4G cellular service. LTE is the primary technology that enables 4G cellular services across the world. Interestingly, if you do some online research, you may find some information suggesting that LTE is not exactly 4G and that it may be 3.9G or something along those lines. My personal response to that is, “stay away from the 3.5/3.75/3.9/4G confusion”. Mobile networks and specifications are driven by an organisation called 3GPP. If they do not specify something, there isn’t much value in overcomplicating things by throwing in unnecessary buzzword discussions.
As mentioned earlier, the comparision between 4G and LTE are synonymous so comparing them is not the right thing to do. However, under the umbrella of 4G, the LTE technology has evolved since it was first luanched in 2009 in Scandinavia. These evolutionary technology updates have been part of 3GPP specifications and were given names of LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro which have taken 4G to a whole new level. We alreayd have 5G available in many countries, at least the basic 5G which is the non-standalone version of 5G. The non-standalone 5G is not an end-to-end 5G network and relies on existing 4G LTE core network. As a result, 4G will continue to exist and evolve alongside 5G for a long time. So, if you are a customer who is using 4G LTE i.e. you see the LTE, LTE+, 4G or 4G+ symbols on your cell phone, you should have high expectations of the speed. If your 4G network is not giving you the average speeds we shared above, then there is a problem and you should speak to your mobile operator.