LTE smartwatch RF signal performance

LTE smartwatches such as the LG Watch Sport have remarkable performance with regard to RF signals. That is, under weak signal conditions, one commonly gets say 90% of the range/performance of a full high-end smartphone.

LTE smartwatch in rural Southwest experience

On a recent trip to New Mexico for a conference in Santa Fe, I was surprised how well the Android Wear LTE smartwatch works in this weak coverage area for AT&T. AT&T admits they have few towers in the Santa Fe area, and the local store in Santa Fe says don’t expect your AT&T phone to work in Los Alamos, yet I found I could make calls near Los Alamos.

Note: with providers turning off 2G, in particular AT&T, be aware coverage may have changed since the last time you went to your vacation spot.

Since you can use a Bluetooth headset with the Android Wear LTE smartwatch, call quality is excellent under a wide variety of conditions. In very noisy environments, I hold my wrist next to my ear, or used a headset.

AT&T coverage map over exaggerates their new Mexico coverage

As always before going into remote areas, let someone know when & where you’re going in case of problem and no cell coverage. Consider renting a satellite phone or Spot device if on extended remote travel.

Understanding what 2G/3G/4G mode smartphone/watch is in

While VoLTE/HD Voice is being rapidly deployed, most carriers have still only enabled VoLTE for a select subset of user devices in typically urban areas. Your smartphone/watch will often drop back to “4G” to make a call. You can observe this on an Android device by that the signal icon changes from 4G-LTE to just 4G–which likely actually means a 3G CDMA or HSPA network.

If you see an E next to your signal bars, that means 2G EDGE, the network mode turned off in 2017 for many North American carriers. If you see an H that means 3G HSPA/HSPA+. If you see 4G, that might actually mean really good 3G. You might notice the signal bars jumping up/down a few notches when going between 4G and 4G-LTE since LTE in the present times is often on a different band than 3G–e.g. 700 MHz vs. 1900 MHz Remember, carriers like to call their upgraded 3G networks 4G.