4G vs. LTE: The differences explained

When it comes to wireless broadband standards, there are a number of acronyms to track. However, few are more important than LTE and 4G, both of which provide cellular data transfer. Knowing the difference between 4G and LTE can give you a solid foundation of knowledge when you’re upgrading your phone or cell carrier, or trying to determine whether the new 5G standard is relevant to your service. is. The discussion below explains the basics.

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The simplest explanation is that the “G” in 4G stands for “generation”, as 4G is the fourth generation of mobile data technology, as defined by the Radio Sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R). LTE stands for “Long-Term Growth” and applies more generally to the idea of ​​improving wireless broadband speeds to meet growing demand.

What is 3G?

When 3G networks began commercially, in or around 2002, they replaced 2G systems, a network protocol that allowed only the most basic of what we now call smartphone functionality. Most 2G networks handle phone calls, basic text messaging and small amounts of data over a protocol called MMS. With the introduction of 3G connectivity, many big data formats, including standard HTML pages, videos and music, became more accessible. Speeds were still very slow, and most of the required pages and data were formatted specifically for slow wireless connections. Compared to 2G standards, the new protocol was faster, but still did not come close to replacing home broadband connections.

What is 4G?


The ITU-R set standards for 4G connectivity in March 2008, requiring all services described as 4G to comply with a set of speed and connection standards. For mobile use, including smartphones and tablets, the connection speed must be at least 100 megabits per second and at least 1 gigabits per second for more stable usage such as mobile hot spots.

When these standards were announced, these speeds were unheard of on the ground, as they were intended as a target for developers, an aspirational point in the future that marked a significant leap forward over current technology. Over time, the systems powering these networks took hold, not only in the sense that new broadcast methods found their way into products, but already established 3G networks were improved to such an extent that they were replaced by 4G networks. can be classified as G.

What is LTE?

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and is not so much a technology as it is a method adopted to achieve 4G speeds. For a long time, when your phone displayed the “4G” symbol in the top right corner, it wasn’t downright accurate. When the ITU-R set minimum speeds for 4G, they were mostly inaccessible, despite the amount of money tech manufacturers put into achieving them. In response, the regulatory body decided that LTE, the name given to the technology used in complying with those standards, could be labeled as 4G if it provided a substantial improvement over 3G technology.

Immediately networks began to advertise their connections as 4G LTE, a marketing technique that allowed them to claim next-gen connectivity without reaching the actual required numbers first. It’s not outright trickery, however, despite inconsistent speeds depending on location and network, the difference between 3G and 4G is clear.

To further confuse matters, you might have come across LTE-A. It stands for Long-Term Evolution Advance, and it gets us closer to true 4G. It offers faster speeds and more stability than normal LTE. It’s also backwards compatible and works by aggregating channels, so instead of connecting to the strongest signal around you, you can download data from multiple sources at the same time. LTE standardization has now advanced where changes in specifications are limited to improvements and bug fixes.


So, can you feel the difference between 4G and LTE networks? Are page loading or app download speeds fast enough on your device if you have LTE technology built-in? Maybe – if you are in the right place. While the difference between a slower 3G network and a newer 4G or LTE network is quite noticeable, many 4G and “true 4G” networks have nearly identical upload and download speeds. The rollout of LTE-A made a difference for some customers, but mileage may vary.

LTE-A was the fastest connection available for wireless networks for some time, but 5G networks are increasingly going live in more places, with all the major carriers in the process of rolling out 5G networks nationwide across the US, so much so. No, but the latest smartphones on the market – like the iPhone 12 series or Samsung Galaxy S21 series – now feature 5G.

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Creating 4G connectivity requires two components: a network that can support the required speeds, and a device that can connect to that network and download information at high speeds. Just because a phone offers 4G LTE connectivity, doesn’t mean you can get the speed you want, in the same way that buying a car that goes 200-mph doesn’t mean That you can go 55-mph freeway.

Before carriers were actually able to offer LTE speeds in key areas, they were selling phones that had the capabilities they would need to reach the desired speeds, and they later began rolling out service on a limited scale. gave. Today, LTE service is widespread.

Packet-Switching and Circuit-Switching

network speed test

No matter what the data is or how fast it is being transferred, it needs to be packaged and sent so that other points on the network can interpret it. Older networks used circuit-switching technology, a term that refers to the method of communication. In a circuit-switching system, a connection is established directly to the target via the network, and the entirety of the connection, whether it is a phone call or a file transfer, occurs through that connection. The benefits of circuit-switched networks include faster connection times and less chance of connection drops.

The new networks take advantage of packet-switching technology, a modern protocol that can take advantage of a large number of connected points around the world. In a packet-switching network, information is broken up into smaller pieces, which are then sent to their destination, whichever path is currently most efficient. If a node drops out of your connection in a circuit-switching network, you must reconnect, but in a packet-switching network, the next packet will simply seek a different path.

Most 4G speed technology has nothing to do with voice communication. Voice networks still use circuit-switching technology, so it is important to accommodate disparities between earlier and more modern network types. Voice networks took several actions to address this, and many carriers employ one of two options that secured their control over the minutes used.

Carriers do this a few different ways, allowing phones to fall back to circuit-switching standards for calling. Another approach is to use packet-switching communication for data and circuit-switching for voice simultaneously. A final option is to simply play the voice audio as data on the new LTE network. Many companies refrain from using this option as it reduces their ability to charge for voice minutes. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is present when you make a video call connection with another person using high-resolution audio and super-fast connection speeds. Nowadays, VoLTE and Wi-Fi calls have become more popular, and these options will only continue to grow and affect our daily lives more and more.

When will 5G take over?

Verizon 5G Node
Julian Chokkattu / Nerdshala

After years of anticipation, 5G is finally making its presence felt and encroaching upon 4G dominance, although overall 5G network coverage is still relatively limited and available in most major cities. Many manufacturers have introduced 5G-enabled smartphones, and major carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are continually developing 5G networks. Still, much remains to be done to make 5G connections available to everyday users. Also, LTE is always on the rise, and right now the difference between 5G and LTE is not as big as it might appear. Like other protocols, 4G and 5G will coexist, and this will likely help make 5G a smoother and more seamless transition into mainstream use. If switching to 5G is anything like transitioning to 4G, we’ll probably be waiting a few years or so before 5G hits the scene in full force.

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