Digital Networks on an Android Phone
You pay your cellular provider for your Android a handsome fee every month. The fee comes in two chunks. One chunk (the less expensive of the two) is the telephone service. The second chunk is the data service, which is how your Android phone gets on the Internet. This system is the cellular data network or mobile network.
Several types of cellular data networks are available. When your phone uses one, a status icon appears atop the touchscreen, cluing you in to which network the phone is accessing. Here’s the gamut:
4G LTE: The fourth generation of wide-area data networks is comparable in speed to standard Wi-Fi Internet access. It’s fast. It also allows for both data and voice transmission at the same time.
3G: The third generation of wide-area data networks is several times faster than the previous generation of data networks.
1X: Several types of the original, slower cellular data signals are still available. They all fall under the 1X banner. It’s slow.
Your phone always uses the best network available. So, when a 4G LTE network is within reach, that network is used for Internet communications. Otherwise, the 3G network is chosen, and then 1X as a form of last-ditch desperation.
A notification icon for the type of network being used appears in the status area, right next to the Signal Strength icon. The icons representing the network speed vary from phone to phone and between the various cellular providers.
When a data network isn’t available, no icon appears on the status bar. In fact, it’s entirely possible for the phone to have no data signal but still be able to make phone calls.
Your phone uses the Wi-Fi signal when it’s available and a connection has been made. Data transferred via a Wi-Fi network doesn’t count against your cellular data usage. Therefore I recommend connecting to and using a Wi-Fi network wherever possible. That’s because:
Accessing the mobile data network isn’t free. Your phone most likely has some form of subscription plan for a certain quantity of data. When you exceed that quantity, the costs can become prohibitive.