Choosing a new mobile phone is an exciting and daunting task. Device manufacturers such as Apple, Google, and Samsung are pulling out all stops to try and get consumers to upgrade to their latest devices. Sometimes, however, the hardware itself will barely change. Instead, manufacturers will make changes under the hood.

While visually less exciting, these upgrades can significantly improve the experience consumers will get from their devices and mobile networks (provided their selected network is up to scratch – check out our announcements for the latest in network performance).

It’s all about VoLTE and LTE-A

VoLTE stands for Voice over LTE, which means that voice calls are made over a 4G LTE network instead of the more traditional 2G and 3G connections.  VoLTE is IP based rather than the older circuit-switched platform that 2G and 3G calls are based on. Most consumers think of 4G LTE as something that helps them use the internet better on their phones, with faster downloading, streaming and web browsing. While that’s certainly the case, the deployment of VoLTE on 4G networks is enabling operators to also improve voice calls. It’s important to note that this is different than calling over WhatsApp or Skype.  VoLTE calls are seamless as the technology is part of the mobile network (no app to tap – it’s just like making a regular call).  Also, calls connect more quickly and they’re typically HD which means better clarity and quality; and lastly, depending on the operator, calls can seamlessly roam to and from registered WiFi networks.

While mobile operators around the world are still deploying and expanding their 4G LTE coverage, LTE-A (“A” for advanced) has now hit the scene.  LTE-A is an enhanced, higher performing  version of 4G LTE. It uses new network features like carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and MIMO to combine data channels, increase spectral efficiency, enable multiple antenna/signal arrays, and so on.  The net result is an improved user experience (an even faster, better data connection than the initial 4G LTE networks).

What devices work with these new network features?

Before upgrading your device, keep in mind that your mobile operator may or may not yet have VoLTE and LTE-A in your city. For example, in the US and UK (two of the largest markets where we test), US operators are much further along with commercial deployment of LTE networks including these new network features than their UK counterparts.

Perhaps another way of looking at this is to make sure that your new device supports these new network features as operators, if not already, will deploy them at some point. As a rule of thumb, most of the latest top-of-the-line phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, and HTC do support them. Recently, UK operator EE also launched its new Hawk phone, which can handle LTE-A.

If you’re about to upgrade your phone and want to future-proof your choice, keep these features in mind and when in doubt, ask your mobile operator.

Happy shopping!