Ever since cellular phones and wireless networks became popular in the early 90s, there have been significant advancements. With these advancements comes a lot of technical jargon that can confuse users. Many people wonder why their phones display “LTE” instead of “5G” next to their signal indicator. Let’s delve into the reasons behind this.
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Reasons for LTE Display
There are two main scenarios why your phone might display LTE instead of 5G. Firstly, your phone may not be capable of connecting to a 5G network. In this case, the only solution is to purchase a more modern phone. Secondly, your cell phone provider may not offer 5G service in your area, or the network may not reach your location for various reasons.
LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution. It is a term used to describe advanced versions of cellular networks. However, contrary to popular belief, LTE is not the same as 4G. Depending on the year and your specific cellular provider, LTE can represent different things. The term originated in 2008 when the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published the first official 4G standard. Most American cellular carriers took this opportunity to label their slightly upgraded 3G networks as 4G. However, none of these networks were truly capable of 4G data throughput. This is when LTE came into play. LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution, as it represented the upgrade path from 3G to true 4G capabilities. Therefore, when your phone displays LTE, it means you’re connected to one of these network variants. If your phone shows LTE+ or LTE-A, it means you’re connected to a network capable of true 4G throughput.
5G stands for fifth-generation, indicating the fifth major cellular network upgrade since the original. Unlike LTE, which has varied capabilities depending on the network variant, 5G is easier to understand. However, it is a more complex technology than its predecessors. The available speeds on a 5G network depend on the frequency your phone utilizes to connect. 5G networks rely on three distinct frequency bands for coverage.
The first is millimeter wave, which offers ultra-high frequencies capable of delivering speeds exceeding 1Gbps. However, this frequency struggles with long-distance coverage and penetrating obstacles like walls. Therefore, it is not commonly used.
The second frequency band is similar to existing 4G networks, offering reliable signals that cover large areas and penetrate obstacles. Although it provides faster speeds than 4G networks, the difference is not significant.
The final frequency grouping falls between the previous two, providing a hybrid of their capabilities. This frequency, known as mid-band 5G, strikes a balance between distance coverage, obstacle penetration, and speed. It offers speeds around 400 Mbps, approximately four times faster than any current 4G network.
Why LTE Instead of 5G?
If your phone displays LTE or its variants, it means you are connected to an LTE network. If your phone was purchased before 2019, it most likely lacks the required cellular radio for 5G connectivity. The first phones compatible with 5G were released in February 2019 and became widely available later that year. Unfortunately, there is no way to upgrade older phones to connect to a 5G network. Thus, you would need to upgrade to a new phone if 5G connectivity is essential to you.
If you have a 5G-capable phone that displays LTE, it means the phone is unable to find a 5G signal or determines that the nearby 4G network provides a more stable connection. Major cellular carriers are still in the process of building their 5G networks, and LTE is used as a fallback when necessary. Occasional use of the LTE network is normal if 5G coverage in your area is incomplete. However, if your 5G-capable phone never connects to a 5G network, it might indicate an issue with your phone or your cellular carrier’s inadequate 5G service.
The Difference Between 4G/LTE and 5G
Currently, it can be challenging to differentiate between the various 4G LTE versions and the newer 5G networks. The main distinction lies in download speed. On average, phones connected to an LTE network in the US experience download speeds between 29 and 62 Mbps, depending on the carrier. However, most 5G users won’t notice a significant improvement yet, especially for Verizon and AT&T 5G phone users. These carriers provide average download speeds between 54 and 60 Mbps. In contrast, T-Mobile users will experience a substantial difference, with an average download speed of 187 Mbps for 5G.
Now you understand why your phone displays LTE instead of 5G and the differences between these cellular networks. The discrepancies between LTE and 5G are still mostly theoretical at this point. However, as carriers continue to improve their 5G coverage and add more cell sites supporting millimeter wave frequencies, 5G users will experience a significant improvement over LTE networks. If you have a 5G phone that consistently uses LTE, it’s essential to address the issue. Similarly, if your phone cannot connect to 5G networks at all, it may be time to consider upgrading.