I was at a friend’s house the other day and while we both use Glo sims, I got better reception than he did. I was watching a documentary on YouTube and he was struggling to view his WhatsApp status. On further investigation, we found that I was using a cat. 15 modem and he was using a cat. 4. What are 4G LTE categories and why should you learn about them?
Modems are used by phones to access network and the internet. The modem on a smartphone is usually paired to the SoC.
4G categories refers to the different capabilities of modems used on smartphones. The LTE protocol uses the LTE categories to define the performance specs of an LTE device.
The performance of an LTE modem can be judged by parameters such as data rates, power consumption, bandwidth, uplink/downlink speed etc. These parameters tells the users what to expect when using a device with a particular category of modem. These parameters also tell the base stations (cell towers/network masts) how to interact with such a device.
The fourth generation of networks have a heavy focus on internet connectivity. So the average user is usually concerned about their internet speed as this has a huge bearing on how he/she can play online games or use Zoom. It also affects the speed at which movies and heavy games can be downloaded and how photos and videos can be uploaded to Facebook and Instagram.
All 4G modem manufacturers use the 4G LTE categories to rate the performance of their equipment. These companies include Qualcomm, Samsung and Kirin.
The body that manages this 4G LTE standard is called 3gpp (3rd Generation Partnership Project).
This is one of the hardest topics that I have had to research as information on the categories was rather very sketchy. To make matters worse, the 3gpp website was last updated in 2016. That was four years ago! Regardless, I found some very good information from Squimway website in their article User Equipment category . They did an awesome job and credit where it is due.
The cheaper entry-level and budget phones use categories 4, 6, 9 and 10. The mid-rangers could use any category between categories 12, 13, 14 and 15. The more higher end flagships could use anything between categories 16, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 24. The higher the number, the faster the speeds and the better the performance. This means that a category 15 modem is much better than a category 9.
The most important parameter that most smartphone users will definitely be looking at are the uplink/downlink speeds. If you wanted to make a call or upload a photo from your phone, the connection needed to send that data from your phone up to the nearest cell tower is called an uplink while the connection from cell tower down to your phone is called a downlink. The downlink is usually faster than the uplink because a cell tower has more power than your smartphone modem.
Simply put, an uplink is the connection from your phone to a cell tower while a downlink is the connection from a cell tower down to your phone. The downlink is always faster than the uplink.
Here are the different LTE categories and their uplink/downlink speeds. The categories are written as cat. for short.
LTE categories and their uplink/downlink speeds
This brings me to the end of this blog post, I hope you learnt something new definitely hit me up in the comment section. I will see you in my next blog post.