What is LTE? - Definition, Speed & Network

Instructor: Misti Smith

Misti has taught courses in Writing, Information and Career. She has two master's degrees in Library Science and Education.

LTE stands for 'Long-Term Evolution' and is currently the fastest available type of wireless network. In this lesson, we will learn more about how LTE works and how it is keeping up with wireless demands.

LTE Defined

When you use your mobile device, what speed are you getting? 2 Megabits per second (Mbps)? 100 Mbps? Or maybe 1 Gigabit per second? What upload and download speed does your network support? 4 Mbps? 7 Mbps? Or maybe 31 Mbps? Can your device even handle these speeds? All of these factors come into play when we talk about high-speed data for mobile phones and devices, specifically regarding LTE.

LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution and is a standard for wireless data networks. The goal of LTE is to continually evolve, for the better, in the areas of capacity and speed because of increasing demands on wireless usage. LTE is marketed as a 4G (fourth generation) wireless service and for now, it is the fastest way to connect with a mobile device. Although LTE does not meet the speeds required to achieve true 4G connectivity, it does provide a substantial improvement over 3G technology.

4G and 3G Networks

So how did we get to the point of LTE or 4G technology? Currently, 4G is the fastest form of mobile data technology. To be classified as 4G connectivity, the network must achieve a peak of at least 100 Mbps for mobile use. Notice that we describe network speeds in bits not bytes, because bits are a measurement of data speed whereas bytes are a way to measure data storage. It is also important to note that upload and download speeds are measured separately from one another, and when a network is described with just one speed, such as how I just told you that 4G must have a peak of 100 Mbps, that speed is referring to the download speed, which is always higher.

100 Mbps, the required speed for 4G, is fast enough to download an HD feature film in about 5 minutes or an MP3 in about 6 seconds. In order to avoid significant pauses or buffering in video streaming, a network must be functioning at a minimum of 5 Mbps, and on average will be functioning at around 5-12 Mbps. The standard speed of 100 Mbps was set by the International Telecommunications Union in 2008. This standard was actually quite hard to achieve because of variables such as networks, carriers and devices, so in response, carriers are allowed to call their service 4G LTE as long as it is significantly better than 3G connections.

3G (third generation) was the standard before 4G came around. 3G standards came into place in 2003 and required only a minimum of 144 Kilobits per second (Kbps) on average, which is more than 97% slower than the minimum 4G speed. There are many variations of 3G networks, so speeds can range much higher than 144 Kbps. Even still, 3G speeds are about 10 times slower than what we have come to expect from 4G LTE. When 3G first arrived, many more types of data were becoming accessible on mobile devices, like music and video files as well as standard HTML pages. Prior to 3G, the networks were first analog (1G) and then digital (2G), which was capable phone calls, text message and data transfer over a protocol called Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) only.

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