What does the “E” symbol mean on my mobile phone?

Have you ever noticed a little “E” symbol on your mobile phone screen right next to the signal bar? It looks like the picture below. When you see this symbol, it means that a 2G technology called EDGE is serving you. In today’s world, we are more used to 4G technology and symbols like 4G+ or LTE+, but there are still times when we are on 2G. If your mobile operator uses a GSM-based network, then you are likely to see this E symbol from time to time. As soon as this symbol appears on your mobile phone, the first thing you may notice is that your mobile data speed drops.

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. This “E” symbol represents EDGE which is a second-generation technology and stands for Enhanced Data for Global Evolution. EDGE was introduced as an enhancement to the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks.

GPRS and EDGE

GPRS was the technology that marked the beginning of packet-based mobile internet services that we see today. EDGE was a big improvement to GPRS, however, the average data speeds that it enables are not sufficient for our current data needs.

When GSM networks were originally launched, they had a technique that allowed mobile users to be able to access the internet from their mobile phones. The technique, however, 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 technique was not efficient which led to the introduction of a packet-switched technology called GPRS or General Packet Radio Service to address the data part. GPRS later evolved into EDGE and it was able to offer much higher speeds to users when browsing the internet from their phones.

Just like GPRS, EDGE uses the packet-switched methodology to send and receive data. With EDGE, 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 which makes the overall process much more efficient.

EDGE can offer peak downlink speeds of up to 384 kbps for downloads, which is more than double of what 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.

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