Do you ever wonder what sort of actual data speed you can get with 4G LTE networks? 4G is the fourth generation of mobile networks that uses a cellular technology called LTE to offer super-fast internet speeds that were previously only achievable through fixed broadband networks. If you see any advertisements from mobile operators, you are likely to come across pictures of happy-looking people watching HD videos on multiple devices. However, it is important to note that having a 4G connection doesn’t automatically guarantee that you will definitely get the superior 4G speeds. It is important to make a distinction between peak data speeds and average data speeds. The average 4G data speed is what you normally get on your mobile device and the peak 4G speed is the maximum speed that is theoretically possible.
Do we ever get peak 4G speeds?
The peak data speed of a mobile network is the maximum possible data speed it is technically capable of providing. The best chances of getting that speed would be if you were located very close to the cellular tower of your mobile operator and if your device was the only device being served by the relevant LTE cell. As you can imagine, the likelihood of that happening isn’t that high especially in busy hours when many people use the network simultaneously. The LTE networks can provide peak download speeds of up to 300 Mbps. LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro can deliver download speeds of up to 1 Gbps and 3 Gbps respectively. Have a look at this post if you would like to learn more about the LTE technology.
You are probably wondering if you have ever experienced data speeds like the ones mentioned above? There is a considerable difference between the peak-speeds of 4G networks and the actual speeds. The actual or average 4G speed that you get on your mobile device is typically much lower than the peak speeds.
So, what is the actual 4G speed then?
The average 4G data speeds can vary considerably depending on many network and device-specific factors. We have seen an average download speed of around 17 Mbps, and an average upload speed of 12 Mbps on 4G LTE. With LTE Advanced (LTE+ or 4G+), the average download speed moved up to 66 Mbps and the average upload speed moved up to 17 Mbps. These average speeds are based on the tests we did in July 2020 mainly in the UK.
Let’s now have a quick look at the detailed results in the tables below. Our speed tests used pay-monthly SIMs from five (5) randomly selected mobile operators around the world. However, the majority of these tests were carried out in the UK in the area of Reading. The first table shows the download and upload speeds we got on LTE-Advanced (4G+) in various locations within Reading UK and Scarbrough Canada. The other table shows the download and upload speeds on regular LTE network (4G). We intend to update this table with more readings as and when they become available. If you would like to contribute, please send us your readings through our contact page or through this tweet.
Why does the actual 4G speed vary so much?
Your mobile device has to do a lot of work to help you perform basic tasks e.g. searching for something on Google or making a call. The mobile device connects to the cellular tower closest to your location which then connects you to the rest of the mobile network to help you enjoy the services that you are entitled to. There are many variables in this process that can impact your service quality and hence the data speeds.
Mobile operators install cellular towers nationwide to provide you with the best possible coverage. However, that doesn’t mean that aren’t any coverage holes. If you live in a not-so-urban area where there aren’t that many cellular towers, you may sometimes experience poor network coverage. When the signal quality on your phone starts to get worse, the network can decide to put you on the next available cell (transceiver) with better signal strength. As a result, you may end up on a cell with less superior speed e.g. 3G network (with 3G, H or H+ symbol) or even 2G network (G or E symbol).
In situations when you are not stationary e.g. watching an online video during a train journey, your serving cell keeps changing as you change locations. In that scenario, there is a possibility that you start watching the video in a busy city with LTE-Advanced (4G+) and as your train enters a 2G-only area, your video streaming starts to become challenging. Also, just because you are in a 4G coverage area doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have the best 4G speeds. For example, it could be that your operator has 4G (LTE) but not LTE Advanced (4G+).
In addition to the network coverage, the other, very important aspect is the network capacity. Network capacity is basically the ability of a mobile operator to have enough resources to serve the customers on its network. You may notice in busy hours that sometimes you see the 4G or LTE symbol on your phone but the data speeds are still not as expected. This usually happens when the network is fully loaded and capacity is stretched. Mobile operators do have network monitoring systems in place to keep track of these issues. However, if you find yourself in this situation often, you may contact your service provider to get professional advice.
Sometimes the speed can also be linked to your device especially if you are using a relatively older phone. For example, if you are using a phone that supports LTE but not LTE+ or if you have a 4G SIM but not an LTE compatible phone. The quality or sensitivity of the antennas of your smartphone can also impact your data speeds when transmitting or receiving 4G signals.