LTE Meaning: Understanding the Cell Phone Technology

By: Yara Simón  | 
Low angle view of three people using smart phones outdoors
Your phone — and your friends' phones — all say LTE while you're out trying to find a backup brunch spot. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Xavier Lorenzo / Getty Images

The letters "LTE" are likely on the corner of your cell phone screen, but do you know what they stand for? LTE, meaning long-term evolution, is responsible for your mobile internet experience.

If you can easily stream your favorite show on the go, you can thank LTE; the technology is the reason you don't have to just sit alone with your thoughts.


Learn more about LTE networks and their role in mobile telecommunications.

What Is 4G LTE?

LTE is a standard for wireless broadband communication with enhanced speeds and data rates, lower latency and overall more seamless mobile communication experiences.

You will often see LTE paired with the term "4G." That's because LTE, or long-term evolution, is a type of 4G, the fourth generation of cell phone technology. Network operators launched LTE in the early 2010s, with T-Mobile first offering it in 2013 and AT&T in 2011.


Users can enjoy faster download speeds and upload rates, smoother streaming of videos and better performance for data-intensive apps. LTE network speeds are about 10 times faster than its predecessor, 3G.

LTE is a foundation for other mobile networks, like 5G, the next generation that is not yet available to everyone. (Globally speaking, 5G's reach is about 45 percent at the time of this article's publication, with a global reach of 85 percent estimated by the end of 2029.) When 5G becomes more widespread, LTE devices will eventually become obsolete.


There's a generation after LTE and before 5g: LTE-A, or LTE-Advanced. Also known as 4G LTE Advanced, LTE-A builds upon the capabilities of LTE to deliver even faster and more efficient wireless communication.

LTE technology enables faster and more efficient data transfer between mobile devices and cellular networks. It facilitates high-quality voice calls and a diverse range of mobile services.


How Does LTE Work?

LTE uses orthogonal frequency division multiplexing — a modulation technique used in telecommunications to transmit large amounts of data over a channel by dividing it into multiple narrowband subchannels.

The International Telecommunication Union calls LTE "a technological revolution, not just evolution."


The LTE Network and Smart Cities

LTE data contributes to the realization of smart cities, facilitating efficient traffic signals, digital signage and predictive maintenance systems. It enables the seamless connectivity necessary for the integration of diverse communication systems.


Public vs. Private LTE Networks

Public and private LTE networks represent two distinct approaches to providing wireless connectivity, each tailored to specific needs and requirements. Public LTE networks, operated by telecommunications service providers, offer widespread coverage to the general public for a fee. They are the backbone of cell phones.

On the other hand, a private LTE network is a dedicated, localized network that organizations deploy and own for their specific use. These networks offer greater control, security and customization, making them ideal for industries like manufacturing, healthcare and logistics.


Citizens Broadband Radio Service

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a wireless communication spectrum band in the United States that spans from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz. CBRS is unique in that it allows for shared access, enabling different entities to use the spectrum for various purposes.

It has become particularly significant for private LTE networks, as organizations can deploy their own wireless infrastructure within the CBRS spectrum, providing reliable and secure connectivity.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.