What does the “E” symbol mean on mobile phones?

When your phone is in service, you are generally served by the most widely available mobile network which at the moment is 4G LTE. While your cellular service depends on your service provider and location, 4G LTE networks provide the 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 that is 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. This post will explain what the E symbol means and what kind of service you can expect when that symbol shows up on your phone.

The “E” symbol on your mobile phone (cell phone) represents the EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) enhancement that improves the GPRS data rates through Enhanced GPRS (EGPRS). As part of EDGE in 2G GSM networks, EGPRS can allow you to get average download speeds of between 130 to 200 kbps.

Mobile phone showing the E symbol
Mobile phone showing the H+ symbol

What does the “E” mean on your phone?

When you see the E symbol on your phone, you are being served by the second generation of mobile networks. More specifically, E represents the EDGE data technology which is part of 2G GSM networks. EDGE stands for Enhanced Data for Global Evolution, and it is an enhancement to the good old GPRS, which started packet-switched mobile data technology in GSM networks. As soon as your mobile phone starts showing this symbol, the first thing you may notice is that all your web browsing slows down considerably. EDGE networks can provide peak speeds of up to 384 kbps in the downlink for downloads, but since we hardly ever get the peak speeds, what you end up with might look similar to the speed we are getting in the screenshot below, which is 0.13 Mbps or 130 kbps. On the positive side though, since EDGE is part of the GSM technology, your voice calls and SMS will be served by the circuit-switched technology in good quality as long as you get a decent mobile signal.

Average speeds you can expect when served by 2G GSM EDGE networks.

What is EDGE in 2G?

When GSM networks were originally launched, they had a technology that allowed mobile users to access the internet from their mobile phones. However, the technology was circuit-switched, which meant that it required a dedicated circuit to carry out the data sessions for each user. As you can imagine, that was not efficient, which led to introducing a packet-switched technology called GPRS or General Packet Radio Service to address the data part. GPRS later evolved into EGPRS (Enhanced GPRS) as part of the EDGE enhancement to offer much higher speeds to users when browsing the web from their phones. With GPRS and EGPRS, the capacity available on the packet-switched part of the network is shared among multiple users. The packets of data bursts are sent at different intervals for different users, making the overall process much more efficient. EDGE can offer peak downlink speeds of up to 384 kbps for downloads, which is more than double the speed that GPRS can offer. Even though 384 kbps can theoretically support basic mobile internet tasks, but we don’t get peak speeds in real life. Generally, depending on how many people are on the network and how far you are from the base station, you may only get to enjoy a small portion of this 384 kbps.

Why does my phone say E instead of 4G?

Your mobile phone always indicates which type of mobile network technology you are connected to. For example, if your phone is served by the 4G LTE technology, it will either show LTE and LTE+ symbols or 4G and 4G+ symbols. The LTE + and 4G+ symbols refer to LTE-Advanced which is an enhancement to the LTE networks. When your phone is on a 2G (GSM) network, you will likely see the E symbol. The table below shows which symbols relate to which network technologies and the maximum speeds for each of the technologies. We have also put the average speeds in this table to give you an idea; however, please note that the average speeds vary considerably depending on which mobile network you are on and which location you are in.

SymbolNetwork GenerationNetwork TechnologyPeak speedAverage speed*
5G5GNew Radio – NR10 Gbps150-200 Mbps
4G+ or LTE+4GLTE-Advanced or LTE Advanced Pro1-3 Gbps50-80 Mbps
4G or LTE4GLong Term Evolution – LTE300 Mbps15-20 Mbps
H+3GEvolved High-Speed Packet Access -HSPA+ (UMTS)42 Mbps5-8 Mbps
H3GHigh-Speed Packet Access – HSPA (UMTS)14.4 Mbps<5 Mbps
3G3GUniversal Mobile Telecommunications System-UMTS2 Mbps384 kbps
E2GEnhanced Data for Global Evolution – EDGE (GSM)384 kbps130-200 kbps
G2GGeneral Packet Radio Service – GPRS (GSM)171.2 kbps

Mobile network technology symbols and expected peak and average download speeds—[* Reading, UK, 2021, and can vary a lot depending on your operator, location, etc.]

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

The first thing you want to check is whether your mobile phone automatically selects the latest network technology or is locked to a certain technology. You can check 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. If you are in a location where you only have 2G/3G coverage, your phone will select whatever is available. However, with this setting (4G), as soon as your phone finds a 4G network, it will automatically attempt to connect to it.

Preferred network mode on an iPhone

Conclusion

The E Symbol on your mobile phone refers to EGPRS which is an improvement made to the GPRS networks as part of the EDGE enhancement. EGPRS stands for Enhanced General Packet Radio Service and EDGE stands for Enhanced Data for Global Evolution. When you are in an area where the mobile network coverage with LTE (4G) and UMTS (3G) is a bit patchy or non-existent, then you are likely to see an “E” symbol popping up on your mobile phone screen. EDGE belongs to the second-generation GSM technology that can improve the maximum data rates of GPRS to up to 384 kbps. The average achievable download speed of EGPRS is around 130-200 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 some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, 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 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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