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What does LTE mean? Everything you need to know

By Mint Fox

Originally published December 6, 2021


Last Updated April 18, 2024

mint fox explaining what LTE is

You’ve probably seen the term LTE floating around when you’ve shopped for a new phone. But what does it mean? LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It’s the standard way our wireless data is transmitted (which means it’s the way our phone connects to the internet using cell towers) and what allows you to download emails, browse websites, stream music, etc.

In comparison to the old standard, 3G, LTE is much faster and smoother. It offers download speeds of approximately 100Mbps and upload speeds of about 50Mbps thanks to using radio waves for better coverage and the ability to penetrate surfaces (in contrast to 3G, which used microwaves to transmit data and heat up frozen burritos). LTE was first commercially available in 2010 and has since become the standard for wireless devices. It’s also commonly referred to as 4G LTE, as LTE is the technology behind 4G (more on that later).

Basically, if you have a 4G LTE phone, when you’re not on Wi-Fi, LTE is what your phone is using to do pretty much anything. 

Still got questions about this enigmatic acronym? Well, we’ve got more answers below. 

In this article

What is the meaning of LTE? What does LTE stand for?

As we stated above, LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It’s referred to as long term evolution because it’s meant to show the growth in progression from GSM and CDMA technologies (Read here for more information on those acronyms), or from 2G to 3G to 4G, so it’s symbolic of the evolution of growth in the way our wireless data is transmitted. 

Like the evolution of the finches. Or Pokemon. 

mint fox teaching the meaning of LTE

What does LTE mean on my phone?

One of the places you’ve probably seen LTE pop up is right on your phone at the top of your screen. That’s because your phone is frequently relying on your cellular provider’s network to run your apps, browse the internet and even check the weather when you’re not on Wi-Fi, which is why it’s constantly using 4G LTE (and thus why you see it on your screen). 

LTE’s differences and similarities 

Ever wonder how LTE is different (or similar) to 3G, 4G, 5G, and VoLTE? Look no further to see how LTE stacks up against…pretty much everything.

LTE vs 3G

As we’ve said before, LTE is a huge improvement over 3G. The main difference is speed. LTE is 15 times faster than 3G. For example, to download an app, 3G would take about 30 seconds, while 4G LTE can download it in just a few seconds. Web browsing is also smoother and quicker on 4G LTE and you can stream HD videos. LTE runs up to 100Mbps, while 3G runs 7.2MBps. 

Another difference is that 3G networks are slowly going away, while LTE networks are currently the standard. Which is pretty important, since 3G networks are going away as early as 2022. LTE vs 3G is basically the new vs the old. 

LTE vs 4G 

So, you might wonder, which is better: 4G or LTE? Or what’s the difference between LTE and 4G? LTE is the technology behind 4G, which is why they’re usually referred to together as 4G LTE. 4G refers to the fourth generation (hence 4G) of mobile communication. It’s a vast improvement over the second and third generation (2G and 3G, respectively). So, LTE vs 4G isn’t really a competition, because they’re working together.

So, why do we call it 4G LTE? It’s mostly a marketing term because when it first came out, LTE did not qualify as true 4G. That’s because the group that sets the standards, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R) set standards that were pretty much unreachable and said LTE was not true 4G, which was faster than LTE. So 4G LTE is kinda like when car manufacturers add “Sport” to the end of a car’s name to show it’s a better car, but the same model.

However, in 2010, when LTE was commercially available, the ITU-R decided that 4G did apply to LTE and thus 4G LTE became basically the best you could get. Until, of course… 

LTE vs 5G

LTE vs 5G is where more differences come into play. Every 10 years or so, our friends at the ITU-R come up with new standards for wireless. This time, it’s 5G. 5G is much faster than 4G LTE, with the fastest 5G networks sometimes up to 10 times faster (some speculating they may even reach up to 20 times faster or more) than 4G LTE. 5G also uses a different, faster way to connect to networks and reduces lag time on your device even more than 4G. In general, it’s an overall improvement over 4G with better connectivity, reliability and coverage.

That’s why, while 4G LTE is currently the standard, manufacturers are quickly embracing 5G phones, including new models like iPhone 14 and Google Pixel 6. But for now, it appears the two will coexist for quite some time, like homo sapiens and neanderthals. If you have (or want) a 4G LTE phone, there’s no reason to worry about 5G replacing it.

All that being said, luckily, if you switch to Mint, we offer both 4G LTE and 5G. Interested in learning more about 5G? Head here to see how we 5G here at Mint Mobile.


Alright, now you might be wondering: what’s the deal with VoLTE and LTE? VoLTE is short for Voice over Long Term Evolution and it’s basically the way our phones transmit our voices during calls. VoLTE calls have high-quality sound because they have the ability to use more bandwidth and can also connect faster when you’re calling someone near you. LTE just refers to the way these voice calls are transmitted. Read more about VoLTE and its benefits.

So, basically, VoLTE is voice calls being communicated over LTE, whereas LTE doesn’t refer to voice calling, but rather transmitting data in general. It’s the same thing with LTE vs 4G, where it’s not really a competition. 

mint fox explaining the difference between LTE and Wifi

LTE vs Wi-Fi

Since Wi-Fi is mentioned a lot in conjunction with your service, you might be wondering how LTE stacks up against Wi-Fi. First off, since you already know what LTE is, here’s a brief explanation of Wi-Fi: it’s a wireless technology that allows you to connect to the internet at a fixed location. A key difference between the two is that Wi-Fi does not use up your data, while LTE does.

Wi-Fi also relies on routers to connect you to the internet (you know…that thing you always have to turn on and off). Another difference is speed. LTE is much faster than Wi-Fi, offering speeds between 100Mbps to 1Gbps (by the way, curious about that whole GB and MB thing? Read more about mobile data). 

Another is range. As mentioned earlier, Wi-Fi relies on a fixed location to access the internet, whereas LTE can access the internet from anywhere. 

So, does that make LTE better than Wi-Fi? Ideally, you should have both. Wi-Fi is perfect if you’ve got access to it and can work in dead zones like underground raves (you do you) and LTE can be used when you don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi can also help reduce your data usage, and thus the amount you spend on your wireless service.

Why does LTE matter so much?

Well, for starters, to use Mint Mobile you need to have an LTE-friendly phone. There are also other reasons to use LTE, such as:

  • It has higher bandwidth. That means quicker connection speeds.
  • LTE offers better technology for voice calls. We go into that more in our blog on VoLTE, but basically LTE allows us to have higher-quality voice calls that connect more easily.
  • It reduces lag time on your devices. This is one of the factors that now allows you to access the internet or apps on your phone even while making calls. 
  • Faster download and upload speeds. You can upload a bunch of pictures of your dog to your work’s Slack channel in no time at all.

Lastly, LTE matters because phones that use older generation mobile communications like 2G or 3G will soon become unusable. That’s because many nationwide wireless providers are doing away with 2G and 3G networks. This is set to happen by early 2022. So, y’know, mark your calendars.

Now you might be asking why 2G and 3G networks are disappearing. Put simply, they’re outdated and allow for very limited data speeds. 2G and 3G networks are taking up space that 4G and 5G networks need, which isn’t cost-effective and can affect even minor things like your phone’s battery life. And since you’ll be paying the same amount of money for all of the Gs, why not go with the two that are better and faster? So say RIP to anything not LTE or 5G.

How do you use LTE?

To use LTE, you just need an LTE-compatible device as well as a wireless provider that uses LTE. Performance depends on your coverage. Check out our 5G Coverage Map. Luckily, Mint Mobile offers both a network that uses LTE and devices that are LTE-friendly, and we’ve got incredibly reliable coverage. 

That was easy.

Where do you find LTE phones?

So, which phones use LTE? Nowadays, all of them. If you’re looking for a phone that uses LTE, our phone store offers devices that all use LTE. In fact, as we mentioned above, if you want to bring your own phone to Mint, you’ll have to have a 4G LTE (or 5G) friendly phone.

Now you know all about LTE and how important it is. As we said earlier, Mint Mobile only supports 5G and 4G LTE, so if you’ve got an LTE-friendly phone (or if you’ve just purchased one at our phone store), you’re all set to make the switch. That being said…can we get an f*!-yeah for LTE? (we said fox.)

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