Everything you need to know about 4G LTE mobile phones

Jeremy Cabral 12 June 2014

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

A 4G LTE capable smartphone offers you the ability to go online at the fastest available speeds. Here is what you need to know.

What is 4G LTE?

The massive rise of the smartphone as an essential part of your daily arsenal can be directly related to the growth of mobile networks that allow users to connect to the Internet. From Facebook to email and everything in between, having a decent data connection has become more important than the ability to make phone calls for many users.

The current state of the art in mobile technology is referred to as 4G LTE. LTE in this case simply stands for Long Term Evolution, and is actually the standards-based part of 4G, a term which, by itself can be represented by a number of different technologies and speeds. For more on the differences between 4G and 3G in Australia, you can read our comprehensive guide to 3G/4G technologies.

Can my 3G phone handle 4G LTE?

That largely depends on its age. Just about any phone sold in the Australian market can handle basic 4G connectivity these days, but some of the newer 4G technologies, such as the bundle of technologies Telstra sells under its own "4GX" banner, will require a newer handset. The newer the handset and the more towards the premium end of the spectrum it sits, the higher the odds it'll support newer LTE technologies for faster 4G download speeds.

In reverse, however, any 4G-capable handset sold in Australia will handle the existing 3G networks offered by Telstra, Vodafone and Optus just fine, albeit at the reduced speeds of 3G networks. Largely, you don't have much control over when you do drop down to 3G networks if that's all that's available in your location at a point in time, although many handsets can specifically opt not to connect to LTE services at all. It is also worth keeping in mind that most global roaming SIMs and services don't cover 4G connectivity while travelling.

What are the advantages of 4G LTE?

The key advantage of 4G LTE is the speed of its data connectivity, especially in a download-centric manner. 4G offers asynchronous data, which is a fancy way of saying that the download speeds you'll typically get are higher than the upload speeds, although compared to most fixed line broadband services currently offered (excluding FTTP NBN) you will still see higher upload speeds on mobile services.

All three major telcos now offer Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) services for handsets that support the functionality. While LTE is typically a data connectivity standard, when you make a call most handsets will drop down to 3G to complete the call process. A VoLTE capable device and network doesn't need to make that transition, enabling faster background data processes while you're on a call, as well as shorter call setup times.

Then there's the speeds. You may not know that your smartphone is classified based on what speeds it is capable of achieving on a high speed LTE network. You can check out our guide for a full rundown of category speeds and what they mean, but ultimately know that the newer and more premium the device you use, the faster the connection you are likely to get.

What are the disadvantages of 4G LTE?

If you're able to download data faster, you can expect to burn through your data quota that much faster. On prepaid mobile plans, that means recharging more often or having your data capabilities taken away from you, whereas on postpaid contract mobile accounts, you'll hit additional data charges when you go over quota. Thankfully we've seen a broad trend towards $10/GB pricing for excess data across most mobile carriers as the new "standard" in this respect, but it's worth keeping in mind when budgeting for your next mobile phone.

Like any radio shared spectrum device, the quality of 4G LTE you're able to get in a particular location is susceptible to many interference factors that can significantly degrade your experience. As such, your experience on a crowded 4G network, or in an area where there are significant physical barriers to mobile reception, such as large buildings, lifts or tunnels can adversely affect the quality of 4G signal available to you.

Best 4G LTE mobile phones

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Samsung's larger curved phone is CAT9 LTE capable, with a top speed capability of 450Mbps.
  • Apple iPhone 6s Plus. Apple's biggest and best phone to date is compatible with all Australian LTE frequencies at up to a theoretical 300Mbps down.
  • Google Nexus 6P. Google's last Nexus phone, produced by Huawei also supports CAT 6 LTE.
iPhone 6s Plus 64GB
Google Nexus 6P
Samsung Galaxy S7

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