Smartphones can connect to the internet using a variety of different methods over a mobile network. The indicator at the top of your phone’s screen not only shows you signal strength, but can tell you what type of connection you are using and give you an idea of how fast you can expect its data services to perform.
The faster the connection type, the quicker you can download (or upload) information, performing tasks like online gaming or browsing the web. The speed of a data connection does not affect the amount of data used.
The small silhouette of an aeroplane is used when your phone’s radios, including its mobile, WiFi and Bluetooth radios are all switched off. In this mode no connectivity is active and you can only use apps and services which don’t require any form of data connection to function properly.
The greyed out or struck-through satellite icon denotes that although the phone’s radio is active it has no discernible signal, preventing you from making or receiving calls or texts or using any data services.
Often marked on a phone's display by the letter 'G'; General Packet Radio Service is the slowest form of data connectivity (114kbps) and is typically only used if the phone can’t find anything faster, due to interference or location circumstances. The original 2007 iPhone used this type of mobile data connection.
Usually denoted with an 'E' and is also known as eGPRS. This connection type fills the gap between 2G (GPRS) and 3G, with theoretical speeds of 400kbps, however real world use usually offers half this. If you’re device cannot find a 3G or faster connection, it’ll likely resort to EDGE (aka 2.5G)
This logically stands for 3rd Generation and is denoted by the ‘3G’ which you may see quite often at the top of your smartphone’s display, previously the standard for top mobile data speeds in places like the UK. 3G offers users data speeds around double that of EDGE, with up to 384kbps. The iPhone 3G and 3GS are called as such to boast their improved data speeds over the original iPhone.
The 'H' on the latest smartphones stands for Evolved High-Speed Packet Access and is the latest form of 3G mobile data technology around. Depending on the different networks and devices, accessible HSPA+ speeds can either be 14.4Mbps and 21Mbps, with 42Mbps possibly in the works.
Currently unavailable in the UK except for very small trial areas, ‘4G’ also known as LTE or Long Term Evolution is the fastest connection type around. US users have already been able to benefit from 4G speeds for sometime which offer theoretical values of up to 10 times that of HSPA speeds with up to 160Mbps. UK users can expect 4G to arrive in the next year or so. The current iPad contains an LTE radio so owners should notices faster performance for downloads and online services when the network becomes active.