So, I read the answers to What are the different signal indicators avalable on the notification bar? and as one answer says:

  • 3G: UMTS (384 kbit/s to 7.2 Mbit/s)
  • H: HSPA (enhanced 3G, sometimes shown as 3.5G; up to 21 Mbit/s)
  • H+: HSPA+ (even more enhanced/faster HSPA; up to 42.2 Mbit/s)
  • 4G: LTE (thanks to eldarerathis for confirmation); up to 300 Mbit/s

I'm guessing that these speed definitions are determined by some international convention or something like that.

I have different SIM cards from different carriers.

When I use Carrier A I see H+, H or 3G in the panel. I get speeds ranging from 4 to 12 megabits per second.

When i use Carrier B I always see 4G in the panel. However, I get speeds ranging from 1 to 2 megabits per second.

By the way, these are general trends for these carriers in various areas, not isolated instances of speed.

So, it seems that what symbol I see in the panel needs not matter so much for the actual speed? (Except for E, which is always terrible regardless.)

If not speed, what is the real reason for what symbol I see? Is it arbitrarily set by the carrier? Can they simply choose to call their network whatever they like? Or does it have to do with what sort of technology they have in their tower? Maybe Carrier B actually does have 4G towers, only their networks are overloaded and therefore cannot supply proper speeds to all the users?

I am in India where 4G is still new. AFAIK, Carrier B might have more traffic than their network can handle.

  • 1
    +1 for homework. 1. Theoretical definition and practical speeds vary in theory also due to congestion, call / data drops, peak patterns etc 2. In India there are a multiple issues to complicate this, statutory, regulatory, trade practices etc that make it more difficult to compare amongst service providers.AFAIK , TRAI is yet to mandate and enforce speed delivered to customer. Only recently, they started monitoring and released an app// – beeshyams Oct 22 '16 at 19:49
  • 1
    // so you have touched a subject which is broad (even the theoretical definition of different types and speeds . Next, there are too many India specific issues. // Very complex. – beeshyams Oct 22 '16 at 19:54
  • @beeshyams Can the carrier arbitrarily decide if they want to call their network 4G or H? If we ignore legal issues? – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 '16 at 19:55
  • Theoretically NO. Carrier cannot. Practically some do- for instance underutilized 2G infrastructure can be packaged as 3G with the implicit ( and undisclosed) assumption that only a fraction of users would be using data and would get higher speeds ( though not 3G speeds). Similarly, 4G speeds can reach 3G speed while labeled 4G.. You shouldn't be surprised to see H+ speeds in late hours like this, go into 3G range – beeshyams Oct 22 '16 at 20:04
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. @beeshyams – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Oct 22 '16 at 21:58
  • It is the speed that determines what is shown in the indicator

  • For the conventions regarding the symbols and speed , see this - which are in line with what is mentioned in your question

  • Advertised throughput speeds are not the actual, real world throughput speeds experienced by the end user. See this for factors affecting the speed

Coming to your main concern regarding different speeds and variance with symbols displayed:

Situation described is India specific and regulated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. AFAIK, they are aware of operators delivering lesser speed than advertised and are in the process of streamlining it. Details are being skipped here being broad / opinionated

  • Operators are not at liberty to falsify speeds - some typical practices have been covered in comments

  • It is best to reach out to the carriers and or TRAI to get to the operator version of it

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