What LTE means for a mobile phone user

LTE is a mobile cellular technology originally introduced in the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Oslo in 2009. Since then, it has seen several enhancements and has been one of the most widely deployed technologies worldwide. As we enter the 5G era in many countries, LTE is expected to stay for a long time alongside another technology, NR. This post will dive into the basic details of LTE, including LTE meaning, LTE speeds, LTE vs WiFi and more.

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the fourth-generation (4G) mobile network technology and its advanced versions, LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro, can enable average download speeds of 60 to 70 Mbps. While 5G NR is the latest cellular technology today, 4G LTE will co-exist with 5G NR for a long time.

What exactly is LTE?

LTE is a cellular technology that enables the fourth generation of mobile networks, usually expressed as 4G. It is the evolution of third-generation mobile networks, including 3G UMTS and CDMA2000. For the exact LTE meaning, let’s start with understanding the acronym first. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution of mobile networks, and it is a technology that streamlined the fourth generation migration path for UMTS and CDMA2000. Since its initial launch in 2009, LTE has seen enhancements in the form of LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro. While the key benefit of LTE over earlier mobile technologies is its ability to provide considerably higher data rates, it also enables IP-based voice calls. The 2G and 3G networks provide voice calls over traditional circuit-switched networks. On the other hand, LTE can use the packet-switched part of the network to facilitate voice calls and mobile data. The table below provides a mapping of cellular technologies and the generations of mobile networks in which they were deployed.

20094GLTE-Long-term EvolutionLTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro
20003GUMTS-Universal Mobile Telecommunications ServiceHSPA and HSPA+
20003GCDMA2000 – Code Division Multiple Access Year 2000EVDO Rev0, RevA and RevB
19952GIS-95 – Interim Standard 1995IS-95 A and IS-95B
19922GGSM – Global System for Mobile CommunicationsGPRS and EDGE
1991-922GD-AMPS – Digital Advanced Mobile Phone System

Where LTE fits among other cellular technologies

What is the difference between 4G and LTE?

4G is an umbrella terminology covering technologies that can meet the requirements specific to the fourth generation of mobile networks. The specifications for mobile networks are documented by the standards organisation, 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project). The fourth generation of mobile networks can be enabled by LTE and WiMax technologies. LTE provides the 4G migration path with full backwards compatibility to all key 3G technologies. As a result, it is the primary technology used by mobile operators worldwide for 4G deployments. The terms 4G and LTE are therefore synonymous and are used interchangeably. 3GPP specified LTE in release 8, and since then, there have been updates, including LTE-Advanced as part of 3GPP release 10 and LTE-Advanced Pro as per release 13. The table below summarises this concept nicely.

Technology3GPP Release NumberNetwork Generation
NR3GPP Release 155G
LTE – Advanced Pro3GPP Release 134G
LTE-Advanced3GPP Release 104G
LTE3GPP Release 84G

LTE enhancements and relevant 3GPP releases

Does LTE use data?

In short, yes. LTE is the technology that enables mobile data by connecting cellular devices to high-speed data services. If you are on an LTE network and using internet services such as watching a Youtube video, you will be consuming your mobile data, which will come out of your allocated data allowance. If you are connected to the LTE network but in a location where you also have fully functional WiFi, then your phone will use WiFi instead of mobile data for all internet services.

Is LTE the same as WiFi?

LTE and WiFi are two different network technologies; however, there are similarities in the use cases they address. LTE is a cellular technology that enables 4G mobile services like UMTS and CDMA2000. LTE makes use of the nationwide network of cellular base stations owned by mobile operators to provide coverage on SIM-enabled devices such as mobile phones and tablets etc. LTE employs licensed frequency bands for the transmission of cellular services wirelessly. WiFi, on the other hand, is a fixed wireless technology specified by the IEEE 802.11 standards. WiFi employs unlicensed frequency bands and is usually transmitted via a WiFi router for creating wireless internet coverage. Since LTE is mobile cellular technology, it can enable data and PSTN connectivity, which basically means that you make and receive phone calls using LTE.

Why does my phone say LTE?

If you have a SIM-enabled device such as a smartphone (e.g.an iPhone), as soon as you insert a SIM card, your smartphone will make attempts to join a mobile network. The mobile connectivity between your smartphone and the mobile network uses cellular technologies. LTE is a cellular technology just like HSPA, UMTS, GSM etc. As long as your mobile phone is powered on and not in “flight mode”, you will be connected to a mobile network unless your SIM or mobile phone is defective. When you connect your phone to a WiFi network, your phone utilises the fixed WiFi network for all internet services as long as you have a stable WiFi connection. As soon as there are any fluctuations in the WiFi connection, the phone may switch to the cellular network. When you are on a trip abroad, your mobile phone goes to “roaming” mode and depending on your operator, you may or may not be served by the mobile network. Have a look at this post to check what happens when you are roaming.

Should my LTE be on or off?

In normal circumstances, when you are either at home or out and about, you are likely to keep your mobile phone turned on. The phone will automatically connect to your mobile operator’s 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G network, depending on your cellular coverage. If you are connected to WiFi, your phone will only use the LTE technology for data services if there are issues with your WiFi network. If you are travelling abroad or just concerned about data usage, you can either restrict your mobile phone to a 2G/3G network or just switch off mobile data, as shown in the pictures below. With the latter, your mobile phone will not connect to a mobile network for data, but you will still be able to make and receive phone calls. If you switch off mobile data or 4G, your VoLTE (Voice over LTE) calls won’t work.

Switching 4G LTE On/Off

LTE On/Off on a Huawei Android phone

LTE On/Off on an iPhone: Mobile Data –>Mobile Data Options–>Voice & Data –> 4G or 3G selection

Turning off mobile data

Turning mobile data On/Off on Huawei Android Phone

Turning mobile data ON/OFF on a Huawei Android Phone

Turning Mobile Data On/Off on iPhone

Turning mobile data ON/OFF on iPhone

What average speeds can you get with LTE?

In the UK, 4G LTE networks can offer average download speeds of around 20 Mbps and upload speeds of around 10 Mbps. The enhanced version of LTE, LTE-Advanced and Advanced Pro can offer average download speeds of around 60 Mbps and upload speeds of around 17 Mbps. Look at this dedicated post where we carried out speed tests on various UK-based 4G LTE and LTE-Advanced networks.


To summarise, LTE means Long Term Evolution, and it is a mobile cellular technology that enables the fourth generation of mobile networks. LTE was initially launched in 2009 in Scandinavia, and since then, LTE has seen a few enhancements in the form of LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro. LTE Advanced can offer average download speeds of around 60-70 Mbps in the UK.

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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