- Comparing the Key Differences Between LTE and 5G Networks
- Incomplete 5G Network Coverage
- Choosing the Strongest Available Connection
- Incompatible Frequency Bands
- Outdated Device Software
- Restrictive Network Access Policies
- Congestion Management Practices
- Voice and Messaging Services
- Budget Phone Limitations
- Manual Network Selection Settings
- Weak 5G Signals
- Software Bugs and Anomalies
- Regional Variations in Networks
Comparing the Key Differences Between LTE and 5G Networks
While 5G promises vastly improved capabilities compared to LTE, its rollout is still ongoing worldwide. This detailed article explores the various technical and non-technical reasons why someone’s 5G-compatible phone may show LTE connectivity instead and what they can expect going forward.
|Long Term Evolution
|3GPP Release 8+
|3GPP Release 15+
|Typical Launch Year
|Peak Download Speed
|Frequency Bands Used
|600 MHz to 6 GHz
|Sub-6 GHz, mmWave (24-100GHz)
|Core Network Architecture
|EPC (Evolved Packet Core)
|5GC (5G Core)
|Initial deployment phase
Incomplete 5G Network Coverage
Limited coverage is perhaps the most common reason devices fall back to LTE. Building widespread 5G infrastructure takes time, with early deployments focusing on dense urban areas first.
5G networks initially rely on shorter range mmWave spectrum for capacity but require more compact small cells. Sub-6 GHz bands offer better coverage over distances but lower speeds. Carriers must meticulously plan balanced multi-band networks.
Even areas labeled as “5G coverage” zones may have reliable signals only along certain streets from the first generation of towers. Indoor penetration of mmWave remains difficult, too, due to its high frequencies.
As more small cells and spectrums are utilized over the years, coverage maps will expand. But LTE will likely dominate in rural regions for a while longer given its robust, long-range nationwide footprint already in place.
Choosing the Strongest Available Connection
Phones automatically prefer the fastest network based on metrics like received signal strength and channel quality when standing near the border of LTE and 5G service territories.
If a 4G tower is closer proportionately transmitting a more robust downlink signal currently, the device will latch onto LTE to maintain an optimal user experience. Once 5G strengths surpass this threshold through further network densification, it will take over.
This handover behavior is governed by the open-source Android OS and managed by modem vendors like Qualcomm via algorithms considering parameters set by operators. The goal remains seamless connectivity rather than blindly sticking to the newest generation at the cost of performance.
Incompatible Frequency Bands
Early 5G networks globally differ in their spectrum allotment strategies between sub-6 GHz and mmWave. Phones also variably support these bands based on regions and price tiers.
Mismatches can occur if a market has launched 5G exclusively within mmWave spectrums higher than what a particular handset is engineered for. Without the hardware to detect and utilize available airlinks, devices will logically default to LTE instead.
As both sub-6GHz and mmWave networks expand in unison across more territories, this issue of partial frequency compatibility between network deployments and devices will gradually disappear over the years.
Outdated Device Software
Even with the right radios preinstalled, phones require regular maintenance updates from manufacturers and mobile providers to optimize 5G performance. These refine firmware and introduce new features.
Early adopters or infrequently updated handsets risk missing vital changes to protocol stacks, RF calibrations, band priorities and new cell IDs/signal measurements needed to leverage the live network fully.
As a result, they cannot reliably identify, register onto or aggregate 5G carriers correctly. Carriers also push device configuration updates continuously to improve signaling. Outdated software could perceive 4G as superior falsely.
Keeping devices current through periodic security and OS patches ensures 3GPP standards compliance for stable 5G attachment at its best. This dependence on up-to-date ecosystem software will decline as the kinks get ironed out.
Restrictive Network Access Policies
As 5G business cases cement, carriers adopt various strategies to manage rollout costs and monetize the new services gradually. Service level agreements and conditional network access procedures are commonplace.
For example, 5G access may initially be granted only to postpaid premium subscribers using flagship phones until coverage matures. Operators gain more control over resource governance this way while revenue scales up.
Prepaid and lower-end model users or those on older rate plans designed before 5G would by default, stay on LTE networks that match their existing privileges, capacity allowing. Policy changes following demand and competition loosen such limitations progressively.
Explicit consent to 5G access terms, including rate hikes, also plays a role. Overall, commercial 5G usability expands over the long run as ecosystem players work towards comprehensive solutions.
Congestion Management Practices
With 5G capacities sometimes exceeding tens of gigabits per cell, uneven traffic patterns bring new challenges. Sites in business districts experience sharp data spikes during the daytime, while residential hotspots form at night.
Dynamic traffic steering is employed to regulate flows and avoid deterioration of individual throughputs during localized spikes. This involves selectively moving devices between RATs (Radio Access Technologies) or core network nodes based on real-time load levels.
For instance, during city center lunch hours, NSA (Non-Standalone) 5G phones may briefly switch back to LTE to shed burdensome users until 5G backhaul catches up. Such temporary rebalancing is aimed at retaining optimal service quality for all.
As autonomous control planes and network slicing evolve over 5G, fluid redistribution between generations will likely fade away to support uninterrupted experiences. But evolving congestion controls are currently prudent.
Voice and Messaging Services
LTE remains tightly intertwined with VoLTE/VoNR voice services and SMS/MMS messaging on many networks for reasons of chargeable offload, interoperability, and reliability. Carriers migrated these capabilities early to 4G infrastructure.
So besides standalone data usage on 5G whenever available, mixed-mode phones prefer LTE for supplementary RATs anyway out of specification. This maintains seamless network access across all device functions simultaneously and spares users from toggling SIM profiles unsurely.
Gradual 5G service decoupling progresses hand-in-hand with EPC to 5GC core migration by telcos, resolving legacy tight coupling. And IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) integration delivers a horizontal multimedia experience regardless of RAT.
Budget Phone Limitations
Not all models, even if touting “5G support,” currently have discrete modems powerful enough for exhaustive 5G standalone operation practically across all deployment scenarios. Early batches focus on premium segments.
Lower-cost devices often rely on integrated multimode chipsets with constrained hardware resources incapable of running 5G in full capacity on sub-6GHz or mmWave frequencies independently without LTE anchoring.
SDX55 (Integrated Modem-RF) from Qualcomm powers many affordable 5G models this way – supporting NSA architecture functionally but not true SA when out of LTE coverage. Such devices sensibly remain LTE-centric until components evolve for broader 5G standalone usability budgets downwards.
Manual Network Selection Settings
Advanced connection settings found under Android’s Network & Internet menus let users override automatic carrier aggregation logic by actively choosing preferred networks like “4G Only” or “5G Auto.
Mistakenly toggling these from their optimal “Auto” modes blocks the natural RAT selection flow. Phones then lose their adaptive interface and halt 5G attachment, contrary to being fully equipped for it. It’s important to check such overrides aren’t unknowingly engaged.
With experience, setting menus may also evolve simplified default behaviors. But advanced users experimenting sometimes disrupt intended behavior unintentionally until experiences stabilize fully over the years. Settings discipline lies with consumers.
Weak 5G Signals
The first release of 5G networks logically suffers lesser penetration and reliability than mature LTE infrastructure, especially at cell edges. Early mmWave deployments also encounter variability challenges due to its sensitivity to blockages.
If the 5G downlink quality from the serving cell degrades past a defined threshold relative to a neighboring LTE carrier amid moves or changing environments, optimized mobility procedures intelligently fall back to the maintained 4G connection temporarily for continuity as signal propagation improves.
This safeguard prevents unnecessary ping-ponging and favors reliability over rigidly bonded numbers until radio consistency strengthens as more towers roll out worldwide over time. Seamlessness remains technology’s foremost objective.
Software Bugs and Anomalies
New complex technologies take time to iron out all the kinks. Early adopters face occasional alignment issues between fast-paced firmware updates and network configurations that are still stabilizing.
Rare bugs and unexpected idle mode behaviors could theoretically cause devices to land on LTE instead of 5G under some transient error states that may not reproducibly affect all users. As QA practices enhance, anomalies decline with each software generation.
But persistent individual problems may warrant factory resets, cell measurements clearing or SIM refresh after provider diagnosis rules out coverage reasons. Post-sales support improves continuously as 5G transitions from pilots to scaled deployments.
Regional Variations in Networks
With independence in choices of spectrum bands, core architectures, devices, and rollout phasing – no two 5G networks globally are identical from day one. Distinct cellular