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The terms 4G and 5G have become commonplace. However, you might have encountered the acronym “4G LTE” and wondered about its significance. In essence, LTE stands for “Long Term Evolution,” and it is closely associated with 4G—the globally accepted fourth-generation wireless communication standard established in 2008.

As the world witnesses the global rollout of 5G, inquiries about network technology and terminology abound. Questions arise, such as the fate of 4G and whether 4G LTE is on its way out.

This blog aims to shed light on the background of LTE, its role in cellular communications, its connection to the upcoming 5G era, and the anticipated coexistence of 4G LTE and 5G.

Understanding LTE: Long-Term Evolution

The concept of LTE raises numerous questions, ranging from its definition to its data capabilities and its relation to 4G. While not technically identical to 4G, LTE has evolved within 4G networks, providing faster data transfer and lower latency. For most consumers, encountering “LTE” on their smartphones indicates a connection to the carrier’s 4G LTE network.

At Screamer Telecoms, our focus extends to the commercial and industrial applications of 4G LTE and 5G. The remainder of this article delves into the significance and outlook of LTE in these contexts.

When LTE debuted in 2008, it marked the establishment of a new cellular access network characterized by high spectral efficiency, peak data rates, low latency, and flexibility in frequency and bandwidth. LTE represents a continuous improvement in cellular hardware, software, and network technology, optimizing speed, latency, battery usage, and cost efficiency. As one industry observer aptly noted, “It isn’t as much a technology as it is the path followed to achieve 4G speeds.”

It’s crucial to recognize that, with each new generation of cellular technology, previous generations persist in service, often coexisting for a decade or more with the newer advancements.

LTE's Impact: Benefits and Continuity

LTE technology has delivered widespread benefits globally:

  • Universal availability of LTE connectivity for both consumer and commercial/industrial applications worldwide.
  • Long-term network continuity as older networks like 2G and 3G phase out.
  • Support for migration needs from 2G/3G in regions where 5G is not immediately available.
  • Higher speeds, significant benefits for low-power applications, and support for simpler, cost-effective devices, establishing a unified technology foundation for diverse use cases.

The Mechanics of LTE

LTE enhances the functionality and performance of older networks, providing lower latency and increased throughput. Operating on a separate spectrum from 3G networks, LTE necessitates new hardware and boasts fast data download speeds, significantly surpassing 3G capabilities. It supports data, voice (VoLTE), instant messaging, and video over a single interface, simplifying communication compared to 3G.

As 4G emerged from 3G, the network architecture saw incremental changes, as illustrated in our 5G Network Architecture blog.

Evolution of LTE Technology

Approximately every decade, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-R) defines new generation requirements, with older technologies retiring to optimize data capacity and device sharing. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) translates ITU-R requirements into technical specifications, resulting in various LTE releases:

  • 3G (1998): Technological baseline for LTE, introducing data speeds in the Mbps range.
  • 4G (2008): Set standards for mobile, requiring connection speeds of at least 100 Mbps, with 1 Gbps for stationary use.
  • LTE Advanced (2011): Enhanced LTE with faster speeds and greater stability.
  • LTE Advanced Pro (2016-2017): Introduced carrier aggregation, higher-order modulation, and MIMO antennas, improving coverage and throughput.
  • 5G (2019-2020): The latest standard, offering speeds up to 10 Gbps, lower latency, lower power requirements, and virtually unlimited data capacity.

Private LTE: Tailoring Connectivity

In addition to public networks, “Private LTE” or “Private Mobile Networks” provide deployment options for LTE technology. These networks operate on licensed, unlicensed, or shared spectrum, offering coverage for cellphones and devices in defined areas. Private LTE networks prove advantageous for geographically restricted sites, large factories, seaports, airports, sports stadiums, and campuses, ensuring near-constant uptime.

In the U.S., Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) exemplifies Private LTE, using shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band (B48). CBRS caters to enterprise and industrial customers seeking control over their wireless network, providing a cost-effective option for areas with poor or no public cellular reception.

Distinguishing 3G from LTE

The evolution from 3G to LTE represents a significant leap in speed, latency, power usage, and network availability. LTE builds upon 3G technology, offering faster data rates measured in megabits per second (Mbps) compared to 3G’s kilobits per second (Kbps). While 3G networks were initially more widely available, 4G networks have achieved nearly universal availability, erasing reliability differences.

In conclusion, LTE’s journey from inception to the present reflects a remarkable evolution in cellular technology, ensuring continuous connectivity, improved performance, and adaptability to diverse use cases. As we navigate the transition to 5G, the foundations laid by LTE remain integral to the seamless integration of advanced technologies into our interconnected world.