What Is LTE? Everything You Need to Know About Long-Term Evolution

Written by Soracom Marketing

By Soracom Marketing, Content Team @ Soracom

Published: August 22nd, 2023

Long-Term Evolution (LTE), is a cellular technology that’s as fascinating as it is revolutionary. LTE is the engine behind your smartphone’s rapid data flow, the heartbeat of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the driving force behind Machine-to-Machine (M2M) interactions.

During the emergence of 4G technology in the late 2000s, diverse technological standards vied for dominance in various nations. Among them, LTE emerged as the triumphant standard, finding global adoption. In essence, 4G and LTE are synonymous, with LTE being the prevailing technology used universally.

Put simply, the terms “4G” and “LTE” are essentially the same thing.

Get LTE Coverage For Your IoT ProjectSoracom provides secure, reliable LTE coverage for all IoT use cases.

Understanding LTE: Long-Term Evolution in a Nutshell

Long-Term Evolution stands as the backbone behind our current 4G cellular networks. This sophisticated cellular technology provides high-speed mobile broadband data, enabling seamless multimedia communication and resourceful public safety functions.

LTE provides faster data transfer speeds in comparison to its predecessor, 3G, boasting rates reaching up to 100 Mbps downstream and 30 Mbps upstream. Notably, it delivers minimised latency, adaptable bandwidth capacity, and preserves compatibility with established technologies like Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS).

The evolution of LTE into LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) further elevated its capabilities, resulting in peak throughput nearing 300 Mbps.

The Cellular Landscape and Global Standardisation

LTE isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a globally recognised, open, and interoperable wireless standard. Practically every major carrier across the globe has embraced LTE for the current generation of cellular communications.

This extends to public safety agencies as well, where LTE has gained prominence for its role in the nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, notably being championed by FirstNet.

In the United Kingdom and beyond, LTE has garnered support from public safety agencies as their technology of choice for future mission-critical broadband networks. The technology’s continuous evolution is overseen by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an organisation that releases new standards versions approximately every two years.

By embracing LTE today, public safety is effectively paving the way for the seamless integration of 4G and 5G technologies in the future.

What is IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a rapidly growing technology that connects physical devices to the internet, allowing them to communicate and exchange data. Learn more in our complete guide, What is IoT – An Extensive Overview of Internet of Things (IoT) Applications, Architecture, and History.

Components of an LTE Network: Unveiling the Architecture

A comprehensive LTE network comprises of four essential subsystems that work synergistically to provide robust wireless connectivity:

  1. Core Network: This is the central intelligence of the network, composed of servers and gateways. It orchestrates access, quality of service, billing, and network policies. Additionally, the core network facilitates access to the internet and multimedia services, including telephone calls.
  2. Radio Access Network (RAN): RAN consists of the familiar cell towers that dot our landscapes. These towers house transceiver equipment and antennas, delivering wireless coverage to devices within their reach.
  3. Backhaul Network: Comprising fiber and microwave connections, the backhaul network forms the data pathways between the RAN and core network. It’s the conduit through which data flows from users to the network and back, enabling seamless communication.
  4. User Equipment: This includes the devices such as M2M sensors, mobile routers, smart buttons, LTE modems, microprocessors, and microcontrollers. This equipment directly connects to the RAN, ensuring effective communication between devices and the network.

Advantages of LTE for Public Safety

LTE introduces several features that prove especially advantageous for public safety agencies:

  1. Exclusive Spectrum: The nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network operates within the 700-megahertz frequency range, distinct from commercial carrier networks. This exclusive spectrum ensures that first responders maintain reliable communication channels even in times of network congestion, providing uninterrupted mission-critical communication during emergencies.
  2. High-Speed Data Priority and Preemption: In the dynamic landscape of emergencies, LTE’s prioritisation and preemption capabilities shine. Public safety agencies can designate priority levels to users and applications, ensuring that critical communication takes precedence over less urgent traffic. In instances of extreme demand, the network can even preempt lower-priority traffic to maintain essential connections.
  3. Self-Organising Network: LTE’s self-organising network feature offers a unique advantage by enabling automatic adaptation to network outages. During an outage, the network reallocates resources to cover the affected area temporarily, guaranteeing a degree of service even in adverse conditions. Once the outage is resolved, the network seamlessly reverts to its original state, showcasing LTE’s resiliency and adaptability.

LTE Connectivity for Internet of Things (IoT) Applications

Back in 2016, a significant development unfolded with the introduction of IoT cellular connectivity options as part of the 3GPP Release 13. This innovation aimed to cater specifically to the realm of IoT machine-to-machine (M2M) applications.

Two distinct options emerged from this release: LTE-machine-type communication (LTE-M) and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). While both drew inspiration from the LTE standard, they underwent substantial modifications to ensure efficient operations within the low-power wide area network M2M environment.

LTE-M ushers in data speeds of approximately 1 Mbps, offering a balance between speed and energy efficiency. On the other hand, NB-IoT shines in scenarios requiring minimal data transfer, providing support for up to 26 Kbps in downlink.

These deliberately reduced data rates hold the key to prolonging the battery life of M2M devices operating under IoT cellular standards. In fact, for devices like sensors that necessitate both mobility and cellular connectivity, NB-IoT demonstrates its prowess by supporting a remarkable battery life of up to 10 years.

The Future-Proofing Power of LTE

Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is much more than just a cellular technology; it’s a transformative force shaping our communication landscape. As the backbone of modern 4G networks, LTE connects us with high-speed data, multimedia, and crucial public safety functions. Its global standardisation ensures compatibility and interoperability across carriers and continents.

Moreover, LTE’s role in the nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network underscores its commitment to public safety. Exclusive spectrum, high-speed priority, preemption capabilities, and a self-organising network contribute to the network’s robustness, reliability, and adaptability.

In an increasingly interconnected world, LTE stands as a beacon of communication excellence, facilitating both our day-to-day interactions and our ability to respond effectively in times of crisis. Through its innovation and adaptability, LTE ensures that our wireless future remains bright, efficient, and secure.

Get LTE Coverage For Your IoT ProjectSoracom provides secure, reliable LTE coverage for all IoT use cases.

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