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LTE vs 4G: All of the Differences Explained

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With high download speeds and consistent performance, 4G has been a staple of cellular internet for over a decade. As of 2024, it isn’t going away just yet though 5G has become more and more wide-spread. But what's the difference between 4G and 4G LTE, which you have probably seen on your phone's network status before?

Let's break down the key differences.

What Is 4G?

4G is the fourth generation of cellular networks, created to adapt to the increase in smartphone technology that took over the 2010s. Cellular networks connect your devices directly to local cell towers to provide you with an internet connection instead of utilizing access points as you would with a WiFi connection.

While 5G is gaining traction across the country, 4G LTE is still the most widely available form of cellular network that you will find in the U.S.

What Is LTE?

LTE was created as a significant upgrade over 3G technologies, focusing on increasing speeds and enhancing network capacity. It began development in the mid-2000s and was designed to meet the growing demand for data and higher performance in mobile networks.

LTE is not separate from 4G; instead, it acts as an evolution of the fourth generation of cellular networks. LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution, and it originally the gap between 3G and 4G bandwidth. For many cell carriers, 4G LTE is what you would have been using before the original iteration of 4G.

What's the Difference between LTE and 4G?

In short, you can think of LTE as an upgrade added on top of 4G. Today, when you see "4G LTE," it generally means you're getting a network that meets or exceeds the standards originally set for 4G.

However, when LTE was first introduced, it couldn't meet the original speed requirements to be considered true 4G. Despite this, because LTE represented a significant improvement over 3G and was moving toward those 4G standards, service providers began marketing it as "4G LTE." It's essentially a marketing term that signifies LTE is on the path to true 4G speeds.

Over time, as technology improved, LTE networks were enhanced (often referred to as LTE-Advanced), and these do meet the ITU's requirements for 4G speeds. So, today, when you see "4G LTE," it generally means you're getting a network that meets or exceeds the standards originally set for 4G.

Are LTE Networks Faster Than 4G?

LTE was originally slower than 4G, but now with the creation of LTE-A, LTE speeds match 4G speeds. However, it's worth pointing out it does not match 5G high-speed capabilities.

Still, until 5G is integrated across the country later this decade, 4G LTE networks will continue to be the primary form of cellular internet in the country.

How 4G Differs From 3G?

While 3G was a perfectly acceptable form of cellular internet in the flip phone era, smartphones needed a more advanced way to connect to the internet. 3G Internet speeds, after all, required nineteen seconds to load a webpage.

4G was there to fill that technological need, providing a type of connection that could be compatible with a miniature personal computer.

Cellular networks, in general, began in the 80s with what we retroactively refer to as 1G. This preliminary form of cell network only had analog voice options, but it set the framework for future cellular connections.

2G brought along the ability to utilize digital voice services and text messages for the first time. This was finally refined into 3G in 2003, which was the first network to allow users to browse the internet, make video calls, and download music and videos.

3G was the beginning of cellular networks acting as internet connections, although at that time, there was not an infrastructure available for connections that could rival home internet.

4G was where this changed, as phones began to look and function more and more like personal computers. 4G networks could provide speeds exceeding five times faster than what you could get with 3G. Casual internet browsing on your phone became a possibility for the first time.

How 4G Became the Industry Standard?

Smartphones quickly overtook the mobile market, and as of 2024, 85% of Americans own a smartphone. This dominance meant that every major cell carrier had to focus on catering to the capabilities of a smartphone. They reduced latency, improved call quality, and video calls became something you could do on the regular.

4G also ushered in a new era of app usage on cell phones. Phones became radically customizable in ways that were never possible before, with people using their phones as gaming platforms and work tools in addition to a phone. 4G gave people the ability to run multiple apps on an internet connection at speeds comparable to a home computer.

What’s the Difference Between 4G and 5G?

The new internet advancement is 5G, taking cellular internet to the next level. With this fifth-generation cellular network, 5G takes latency even lower and speed even higher. 5G employs a larger spectrum than 4G, utilizing everything from low 1GHz bands to high band mmWave.

5G can support capacities roughly 100 times what 4G could handle, making it well suited for congested urban areas. This, combined with the significant decrease in latency, opens up a wide array of possibilities. 4K streaming will become more viable, with video calls, gaming, and other forms of increased usage will be even easier on phones.

Which Cell Carriers Offer LTE Service?

4G LTE is the most commonly used cellular network that exists right now. The 2020s have seen the gradual shutdown of 3G services due to them being obsolete, with 5G coming into play. Given that 5G will spend the rest of the decade becoming fully viable and 3G is going away entirely, 4G LTE is what you will find with your carrier.

The big three carriers, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, all primarily utilize 4G LTE. All of them are pushing heavily for 5G, but as of 2024, none of them have a wide 5G network that can compete with 4G.

What Happens When Your Phone Loses LTE Service?

You have a few options when your phone loses LTE services. In the past, some phones would downgrade to 3G to attempt to connect to a different network, but with 3G going away, that will no longer be possible. If you do not have access to your cellular network, try connecting to a WiFi network to ensure that your network has problems and not your phone.

The Bottom Line

Every carrier competes to have the best LTE and 5G speeds, and the company on top is constantly changing. Want to compare cell phone plans and find the one with the bets deals and the best coverage in your area? Try our free, unbiased Plan Finder below. We'll sort through thousands of plan features to find the best deals for your needs.

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