What Does LTE Mean?

Long Term Evolution: The fastest wireless 4G network

Long Term Evolution, or LTE, is a 4G wireless broadband standard that replaces previous technologies like WiMax and 3G. It's faster than 3G but slower than both true 4G and 5G, the current wireless standard.

LTE is used by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets instead of a wireless (Wi-Fi) connection. As with 3G or 4G, LTE is a technology standard that determines how mobile devices connect to the internet from cellular towers.

LTE is largely a marketing term meant to signify progress toward 4G. There isn't an international regulatory body that rules on what is and isn't LTE or 4G. So, telecom companies often use the terms interchangeably. However, LTE's actual technical specifications fall short of 4G speeds.

4G LTE for Mobile Devices
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LTE Benefits

Despite being slower than true 4G, LTE is an improvement over older technologies and mobile broadband standards. Compared with 3G, LTE offers:

  • Higher bandwidth (faster connection speeds).
  • A better underlying technology for voice calls (VoIP) and multimedia streaming.
  • Low data transfer latency.
  • More scalability, allowing for more devices to connect to an access point at a time.
  • Refined for voice calls through the use of Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

How to Use LTE

You need two things to take advantage of LTE: a phone and a mobile network that supports it.

This means you need to make sure your device is LTE compatible. Not all devices contain the necessary hardware to connect to an LTE network. You can be confident that new phones do, but older models may not.

LTE phones might be called 4G LTE. If your phone doesn't work on an LTE network, you may need to upgrade your device or settle for slower-than-LTE speeds.

Beyond the phone, you'll need access to a wireless service provider—either a mobile carrier or a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). These companies deliver the LTE technology to your device. You need to be within an LTE coverage area to use the service.

A misleading marketing term, LTE often does not correspond to expectations. Before buying a smartphone or any other device, read reviews, check testers' verdicts, and pay attention to the actual LTE performance of the device.

History of LTE

3G was an improvement over 2G, but it lacked the speed required of the smartphone revolution. The International Telecommunications Union Radiocommunications Sector (ITU-R), the body that sets mobile broadband connections and speeds, introduced an upgraded set of wireless communication specifications in 2008. The new standard would satisfy the needs of newer technologies like VoIP, media streaming, video conferencing, high-speed data transfers, and real-time collaboration.

This set specification was named 4G, meaning fourth generation, and speed was one of the main improvements.

A 4G network could, according to these specifications, deliver speeds of up to 100 Mbps during motion, like in a car or train, and up to 1 Gbps when stationary. These were high targets. Since the ITU-R had no say in implementing such standards, it had to relax the rules so that new technologies could be considered 4G despite failing to reach these speeds. The market followed with devices labeled 4G LTE.

4G/LTE remains the most prevalent standard throughout the world. Still, more and more devices and networks are equipped for 5G. 5G offers several improvements over both 4G and LTE but faces challenges to widespread adoption.