Skip to main content

What is LTE Advanced and why should you care?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

LTE Advanced is the next major step in the evolution of our LTE networks. It’s a new network technology that’s expected to both help band-aid the massive increases in mobile data demand, and deliver much higher data speeds for all. That means better coverage, greater stability, and faster performance. And it’s not just a little faster.

LTE Advanced is a lot faster

This table gives you an at-a-glance idea of how the likely speed ranges compare. We’ll have to wait for the release to get solid figures.






LTE Advanced

Peak rate 3 Mbps 128 Mbps 168 Mbps 300 Mbps 1 Gbps
Download rate (actual) 0.5 – 1.5 Mbps 2 – 6 Mbps 1 – 10 Mbps 10 – 100 Mbps 100 – 300 Mbps
Upload rate (actual) 0.2 – 0.5 Mbps 1 – 2 Mbps 0.5 – 4.5 Mbps 5 – 50 Mbps 10 – 70 Mbps

The highest possible rates are never achieved in real world conditions. Actual rates will be variable, but we can expect LTE-A to be at least five times as fast as most LTE networks today, and that’s great news for video streaming addicts, as long as they have a healthy data allowance.

How did we get here?

4glteThe roll out of 4G (fourth generation) mobile networks in the U.S. was slightly complicated by the fact that some carriers decided to label what was really enhanced 3G tech as 4G. This led to the LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard being described as “true 4G” or “4G LTE” when it finally rolled out, but actually that turned out not be strictly accurate either. Check out our 4G Guide for more details on the various flavors of “4G” currently on offer. The first LTE roll-out did not meet the requirements for 4G when it came to things like peak data rates, which were defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Now that LTE Advanced is on the horizon we will be enjoying 4G for real, but what exactly is it? Let’s take a closer look and try to explain.

How LTE Advanced works

LTE Advanced is supposed to provide higher capacity, an enhanced user experience, and greater fairness in terms of resource allocation. It does this by combining a bunch of technologies, many of which have been around for some years, so we’re not really talking about the implementation of an entirely new system here.

According to Jeanette Wannstrom, in an article for 3GPP, “The main new functionalities introduced in LTE-Advanced are Carrier Aggregation (CA), enhanced use of multi-antenna techniques (MIMO) and support for Relay Nodes (RN).”

Carrier Aggregation enables greater speeds because it allows you to download data from multiple sources at the same time. Instead of connecting to the best signal in your vicinity, your smartphone can combine multiple signals, even on different frequencies. Up to five of these “component carriers,” each offering up to 20MHz of bandwidth, can be combined, which creates a maximum aggregated data pipe up to 100MHz.

MIMO stands for Multiple Input Multiple Output, and it can increase the overall bitrate by transmitting two (or more) different data streams on two (or more) different antennas. Qualcomm’s LTE Advanced white paper explains that by leveraging more radio links through more antennas, you get “higher spectral efficiency.” In plain speak, these networks are able to do more with less.

Relay Nodes are described by Wannstrom as, “low power base stations that will provide enhanced coverage and capacity at cell edges.” They’ll increase the range of coverage and ensure that speeds are good, even if you’re on the outskirts of your network.

What do we need?

The technology is backwards compatible, so it won’t adversely affect existing LTE users. However, you won’t automatically be able to enjoy LTE Advanced when the carriers roll it out; you’ll need a new device with an LTE-A chip in it. Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Nvidia, among others, have been working on these chips and Samsung has already announced plans for a new version of the Galaxy S4 which will support the LTE Advanced standard.

When do we get LTE Advanced?

To enjoy it right now you’ll have to up sticks and move to Russia. Assuming that sounds a little drastic for faster mobile data, hang tight for a while and you’ll be able to get it in the good old U.S. of A.

Verizon is says it can start offering LTE-A “soon;” AT&T claims it’s coming during the second half of the year; T-Mobile has talked up its ability to jump to LTE-A before; and Sprint has yet to unveil plans, but we’re sure it will. Bear in mind that there’s already some disagreement about whether all these new chips, devices, and networks will truly be LTE-Advanced. Just as carriers applied the 4G name to technology that didn’t meet the minimum standards for 4G as defined by the International Telecommunication Union, we’re already seeing the same rush to market the LTE-A label, despite all the current plans falling below the ITU guidelines.

It’s unclear whether wireless carriers will charge a premium for LTE-A service, but we think it’s a safe bet.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
Forget the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5: Get an LTE Galaxy Watch 4 for $180
A woman wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and smiling.

One of the better smartwatch deals right now is on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic 46mm LTE at Woot. Normally priced at a hefty $430, it's down to $180 for a limited time only aka until it sells out. Besides saving you $250, it's the coveted LTE version that means you don't need to keep your phone near you at all times to reap all its benefits. It's also the model with a larger bezel thanks to it being 46mm instead of 4mm. Sure to be popular, let's take a quick look at what it offers and how it compares to the newer Samsung Galaxy Watch 5.

Why you should buy the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is the best smartwatch for Android users on a budget. While the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 may have overtaken it in terms of being the newest Samsung Galaxy Watch, there's less of a difference between the two than you'd think. Both look very similar although the 5 has a more scratch-resistant sapphire crystal display. However, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is the model that offers a physical rotating bezel -- something that many people have seriously missed in the newer version as it's very convenient.

Read more
iPhone Lockdown Mode: how to use the security feature (and why you should)
Lockdown mode for iPhone

Apple takes pride in selling a promise of privacy to its customers, and to a large extent, it lives up to that promise. As cyber criminals devise new ways to target phones, with tools as sophisticated and virtually undetectable as the Pegasus spyware, Apple also keeps fortifying its devices.

One step in that direction is Lockdown Mode, an “extreme” safety measure that was introduced with iOS 16 last year. The feature blocks a lot of vectors through which a zero-click, zero-day spyware like Pegasus finds its way inside a phone. From phone calls and message attachments to shared albums and network profiles, Lockdown Mode limits those risk routes.

Read more
Here’s why the FBI says you should never use public phone chargers
Nomad Base One Max charging an iPhone and an Apple Watch.

When the nation’s premier intelligence agency issues a warning about the device sitting in your pocket and bags, you better pay attention. This time around, the FBI has warned smartphone and laptop users against juicing up their devices at public charging points — citing the risk of malware injection.

The FBI’s warning was posted on Twitter, and even though it doesn’t go into detail about the sheer scale of risk posed by public charging stations, the problem has been well documented. Public charging stations at spots like your nearest cafe, buzzy airports, or shopping malls should ideally be avoided because the outlets might be brimming with malware.

Read more