When you're trying to get online on your iPhone, the faster the data network you're connected to, the better -- but the best network won't always be available. Knowing how to tell what kind of signal you're getting will help you figure out whether you can have fun on FaceTime with your friends or you should stick to visiting mostly text-only websites.
Finding and Understanding the Icons
The status bar at the top of your iPhone screen includes, among other things, all information about the type of signal you're getting, if any. From left to right, the bar shows a cell signal indicator, the name of your carrier, and the type of network to which you are currently connected. If you're connected to a Wi-Fi network, you'll see the usual wireless icon. Otherwise, you'll see text reading "LTE," "4G," "3G," "E" or "GPRS," depending on your phone carrier and on what's available at your current location. If all you see is an airplane icon, your iPhone is in airplane mode and will not connect to a cellular data network unless you switch it off. You can, however, still connect to a wireless network even when your iPhone is in airplane mode -- simply activate Wi-Fi functionality manually from within the settings.
In terms of speed, LTE networks -- identified by "LTE" on the iPhone 5 and by "4G" on the iPhone 4S -- are the fastest, followed by 4G UMTS networks. 3G UMTS networks and EV-DO networks, both identified as "3G" on your phone, are the next best thing. If you're on an EDGE network, identified by "E," or on a GPRS or 1xRTT network, identified by "GPRS," you're unlikely to get much in terms of speed, and you may be unable to make or receive phone calls while browsing the Internet or otherwise using the data connection. For more information on which network types are available in your area and the transfer speeds you can expect from them, get in touch with your phone carrier's customer support.
Information in this article applies to iPhones running iOS 7. It may vary slightly or significantly with other versions.
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