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iPhone 101: iPhone Connection Speed Symbols from O to E to 3G (or an Airplane)

The S stands for speed, and the 3G stands for the third generation, HSPA (High Speed Packet Access - wikipedia link) data network, which is also supposed to bring broadband-like speed to your iPhone's internet connection. When you're on the 3G network, you can tell by the little 3G symbol at the top of left of your iPhone's menu, right beside the signal strength bars and the name of your carrier (AT&T, Rogers, O2, Orange, etc.).

There are several other symbols your iPhone might show instead of 3G, however, depending on the type of connection and reception available in your area and sometimes specific spot.

edge

If you don't have a 3G connection, whether your area doesn't support it or you're just indoors or behind an obstruction that's preventing it, your iPhone might default down to a 2G connection, known as EDGE, (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution - Wikipedia link). That's the little E symbol, and If we keep the same analogy, this is older, slower technology -- dial-up to 3G's broadband.

If you're getting an E and you really think you should be getting 3G, try going to the Settings Icon and toggling Airplane Mode on and off. That should force your iPhone to re-connect with the network and give you the fastest speed available. Sometimes even moving to a different, less obstructed spot can make a big difference.

gprs

If even EDGE isn't available, the iPhone will still try to connect via GPRS (General Packet Radio System - Wikipedia link) an even older, slower 2G protocol shown with an O symbol (for outside chance?). To stretch our analogy as thin as this signal, GRPS would be the ancient 24K modems.

wi-fi

Of course, if you have Wi-Fi enabled and connected, you'll get the Wi-Fi fan symbol instead.

airplane_mode

If you've turned all the radios off and gone into "Airplane Mode", you'll get the little airplane symbol and absolutely no connection to the internet whatsoever. (Turn Airplane Mode off -- and your connections back on -- via the Settings icon on your home screen.)

And yes, you can turn on Airplane Mode and still re-enable Wi-Fi if you really want to.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

116 Comments
  • I've only seen the O once and that was while on a ferry to Nantucket.
    Even in the middle of Kansas it was never slower than Edge.
  • Here in Berkeley California, I cannot stress more the ever-changing connections I get. I can get every kind of speed in a minute of use. E to O to 3G to nothing at all.
  • Try coming to northern Wisconsin, I see the O symbol a lot, unfortunately. As well as the No Signal one. Again, unfortunately.
  • In the UK, when outside 3G coverage it quite often goes to GPRS instead of EDGE
  • While complaining to Apple about lack of signal in Albany NY I described my signal as a 'dot' in the first placeholder on the left of the graph and was corrected, 'you have one bar?' calling that a bar and a workable signal is deception at the highest level.
  • Had full bars of 3G since I bought the thing. Must almost be burnt into the screen by now!
  • @Kevin: That's one of the few things us Kansans can be thankful.
  • Iwhen I'm not on wifi I'm on 3g 99.9% of the time, I've been on o once for like 5mins
  • And I'm in nj
  • And no symbols at all if you're abroad with data roaming off. :-)
  • Anyway, worst case scenario you don't get any symbol if reception is absolutely crappy (happened twice in very remote areas).
  • It should also be noted that if you have the 3G symbol, it doesn't necessarily mean you are connected to an HSPA network, you may just be connected to standard UMTS (quite likely if you're on O2 in the UK).
  • Reading in a cab!
    The "airplane mode" thing helped me a lo!
    No more rebooting my iphone for 3g
    thank you
  • Reading in a cab!
    The "airplane mode" thing helped me a lot!
    No more rebooting my iphone for 3g
    thank you
  • My house is screwy. In the front I get full 3G, Edge in the middle and lose it all together in certain parts. If I'm on a call I gotta stand in one place or the call will drop. And no, my house isn't that big.
  • I commute in and out of the city. Right now I am missing my 3G. EDGE isn't that bad though when you have a good signal strength and there is that added bonus of doubling the life of the battery. Whenever I'm on 3G for an entire day with moderate use my battery barely makes it. When you only use EDGE, even a day of heavy use will still typically leave me with a good bit of battery left at the end of the day.
  • I'm on Optus in Australia, which does not have an EDGE network, so it's either 3G in the city or fringe country areas or it's GPRS (the "o" symbol). I'm just happy I get 3G in my house, but my home wi-fi goes one better on internet!
  • Never had an o, it drops from 3g to edge to NO SERVICE written across the AT&T area. Live outside Ann arbor mich in an obviously spotty area.
  • I used Airline andWifi this weekend in a Delta flight. It worked well.
  • o2 doesn't support edge, which is why it goes straight to gprs. Damnit!
  • @Simbak2k
    I get an Edge connection slap bang in the middle of Blackpool but that seems to be the only place.
    There's enough wifi in Blackpool to turn 3G off and leach so it's easier to tell when I've gone from o to E.
    So O2 must support it somewhere in the UK.
    S
  • AT&T just added 3g coverage to where I live. Yeah my battery is definitly thanking me. I have had the O only once on the way to florida driving through Alabama. Lol.
  • When the iPhone 2G was brought out by o2 it responded by beefing up it's Edge network (which by even those times was outdated by 3G, they only did it as the 2G lacked 3G, lol)
    They tried to counter the slow Edge speeds with access to all the Cloud wifi spots throughout the UK
  • Just drove down I-95 south from NY to Hilton Head Island, SC and it looked like AT&T shows NC and SC no 3G love. The resort that I'm staying at on Hilton Head leaves me with no service.
    Good thing I paid for AT&T navigator, since I do not have a reception. Airplane trick doesn't help.
  • Always have 3G & 5 Bar's wherever I go.. Tunnels anywhere AT&T does give good reseption.. Oh and good 3G and 5 Bars when I'm in the middle of the sea.....
  • 3G 5 bars everywhere. Lovin it. :)
  • 3G Full bars in the Chicago burbs, and even all 5 bars of 3G at my College, Illinois State!
    Go Redbirds!!!
  • As Steven mentions, once in Airplane mode, you can turn Wi-Fi back on. Then you can surf in peace with no pesky calls.
  • O2 do support EDGE, it's just that their coverage is rather bad, a bit like their 3G coverage actually.
  • I find it a bit irratating that when I'm on wifi at home. I can't see what cell reception I'm on, i.e. 3G, EDGE or o. The wifi fan masks over the others. Can't we have 2 seperare indicators?
  • You're dumb.
  • Andre - your phone (voice) indicator is your phone provider's name at the right of the signal bars. 3G/E/0/WiFi are the symbols for your data connection. They are different animals.
  • While travelling in the Dakotas I was in a constant o or no signal at all.
  • While travelling in the Dakotas was mostly o.
  • I live in a very hilly area between a large town and the coast in California and I mostly get an E at my house. Signal strength is very up and down even when im staying in the same place even though there's a tower up the street. I've had the o and no service a few times. As far as the map shows I'm about a mile west of the 3g area.
  • Also areas of no signal and strangely good signal at the beach.
  • I'm very disappointed in Rogers right now. I'm in ne Calgary Alberta Canada on my iPhone 3gs and have been looking at the o for a good 1/2 hour now. 
  • I get the O (GPRS) from time to time. In the center of San Francisco. Pathetic.
  • I'm driving through Fargo, ND right now and it's jumping from E to O. It sucks.
  • What does the telliphone symble next to my battery mean
    it's a blue phone looking symble and it showed up only
    after I got the e service... But when I got the e I had
    no service I had full bars but no out going call
    or texts or anything would work until I got 3g back
    why don't they just make it say no service instead
    of makeing me look like a dumb ass out side of my
    own club I'm promoting for and can't get ahold of
    any oft VIPs... Kinda stupid if you ask me. Really made
    me rethink of staying with the iPhone for my work or
    as any phone after this. Not impressed at all
    via iPhone
  • in bristol (uk), i get full 3g throughout the city. currentl on hols in n. devon. many places no sig at all! or 1 bar of phone sig, but no data connection, or juat gprs. here in ilfracombe, got 5 bars & gprs, if i turn 3g on, i lose all signal! is this normal?
  • Thanks for the airplane mode on/off tip to force AT&T to try harder. Very helpful.
  • Peterborough, UK. Solid 5 bars of signal and permanently on GPRS. Come on O2, time to upgrade.
  • I have had the iPhone for 7 months now, and never had a 3G connection! I always have the E! Somethings wrong here...
  • how do u change it back to 3g every since i got it its been saying e
  • I live in London and frequently find myself on E or O. Not like it's a major population centre or anything, only 10 million of us...
  • It is a shame that I live less than 1.5 miles away from Apple HQ in Cupertino- Monta Vista area only not to get any service. 80% of the time it is "No Service" or barely any connections I see either an E or Little o. To top these problems I have dropped calls or no calls at all. It sucks around my home. It is OK in other areas but not good as Verizon coverage.
    AT&T has done nothing in this area other than bringing U-verse to my area. I have complained so many times and nothing changes. I plan to return the phone and cancel service.
  • So do it. Talk is cheap.
  • Thanks to this very informative post. It helped me understand what my iPhone is telling me.
    kind regards,
    -Nat
  • On my i-phone it has something like a telephone and some dots underneath it. What does it mean?? :( please help! ASAP! :?
  • ON MY I-PHONE IT HAS SOMETHING LIKE A TELEPHONE AND SOME DOTS UNDERNEATH IT. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?? :( PLEASE HELP! :?
  • Really helpful, thanks! And well-presented too.
  • I was wondering if someone here can help me out with a problem I've been having with my iPhone 3GS. My 3G, E and O symbols (basically all the data symbols) have disappeared and I can no longer access data on the move. Wifi works fine when I am in range. If I reset mu network settings two or three times then the data symbols come back and I am able to once again access data but this is only temporary and sooner or later they disappear again and I am left with only the signal bar andthe carrier name (etisalat). I've contacted the carrier several times and they don't seem to know what the problem is. I am desparate for some input and help and so if you think you can help me figure out this mystery please let me know.
  • Ive just changed from 3 network to Optus in Australia, I think I made a mistake....
    With 3 I always had 3G showing or at the very least E, now it jumps from 3G to 0 in the same room in the same position, think I'll go back to 3 when my 12 months with Craptus is up.....
  • Ugh, thank you so much! I'm in BFE and have been searching why my phone had an E, and couldn't get an answer to save my life.
  • I live in Richmond hill in Toronto and always have either 3g wifi or e. Never an o, and an e like once
  • I a have just got an iphone and I am wondering if one of the 3g,E or o symbols should be present all the time?
  • On my i-phone it has something like a telephone and some dots underneath it. What does it mean??
  • Got to phone settings and turn TTY off
  • Very helpful. Thanks.
  • Denis: Yes one should always be present (unless on airplane mode).
  • I was in a Mexican border city and my phone would jump from TelCel 3G to Movistar 3G to AT&T E. As I got closer to the the international bridge, it jumped back to AT&T 3G. I was wondering what the E was all about, thanks for clearing that up.
  • as far as the little o symbol, the first and only time i ever saw it was in Banff (In the Canadian rockies)
  • thanks for sharing these terminologies.
  • Fargo, North Dakota, more often than not: an o symbol. AT&T sucks.
  • North Dakota sucks, donchyaknow?
  • Great blog. thanks for the info.=D
  • My wife and I bought Iphones (3G) at the same time. Hers seems to always have the little 3G symbol in the upper left and mine always has the E (mine never says 3G). Wonder what's up with this?
  • Greg, check you have a 3G sim card, network operators tend to forget to send them out! give them a ring and they'll post one to you.
  • The telephone with the dots under it means TTY is on. You can get rid of it by going into settings, selecting "phone" and turning TTY off.
  • The reason you Yanks have never seen anything other than a 3G symbol is because you sit on your fat asses in the same place all day... Try taking a trip somewhere that doesn't have a wifi hotspot!
  • Go suck a fat one while you use "yank" devices
  • Learn some civility.
    BTW, no single country is exempt from their share of fat asses.
    ...and where are you located? Canada or the U.K.? Look around you.
  • France
  • you brits should fix your teeth
  • iPhone 3gs, How do you turn TTY off?
  • Thanks for the input. I first noticed the E on my iPhone 3G today, mainly at the time i wake it from sleep, then it changes to the wifi connection symbol in a second or two. I realise now it is because I disabled my 3G mode last night to help save my battery life. I didn't notice it at work today (within the CBD and a different wifi) and only became obvious here at home. So that explains it. THANKS!
  • I have an o showing at the top left hand corner. although I'm connected to wifi (not showing up top - but if I go into settings it says I'm connected) & no 3G
    Can anyone explain whats going on!!!
    All apps are taking forever to get into.
  • I have a UK-based iPhone 3G that has never displayed "3G" - it's always "o" or "E"... until I was in Spain a few days ago. Somehow my Data Roaming was left "on" (it's normally "off")and for the first time I saw "3G" appear next to the Spanish network name, on several occasions. I'm back home now and can't get "3G" to appear even when I'm standing next to someone with an iPhone that has it. Any suggestions what's going on? I'm mystified.
  • mine seems to always be showing the E and sometimes the o. cant seem to get the 3G to work...
  • I may have an answer of sorts. According to my local O2 shop (my UK service provider) I have an old SIM card, and they have given me a shiny new "3G" SIM card to swap to. They say this should allow me to get a 3G data connection.
    However they managed to brick my phone by resetting it and pulling the SIM card (to see if it was an "old" one) during the restart. They took 2 hours of messing about to not fix it (and may have damaged the dock connector in the process).
    I managed to restore the phone at home (but lost 3 weeks worth of texts, recent phone numbers I'd added, photos I'd taken and apps)... but now I get "Charging is not supported with this accessory" on the Lock splash screen.
    O2 have given me a £20 credit on my account, but I haven't tried the new SIM card yet.
  • Wow...their customer service isn't that good, lol. Anyways, if you get the "Charging is not supported with this accessory" screen, that means they definitely damaged your dock connector. Also, if it is indeed a 3G SIM card, then it should now support 3G.
  • what does an @ symbol with a lock mean
  • It means your screen rotation is locked (turn your phone to the side, screen never flips). Double tap home to bring up the task bar thing, drag it to the right until you see the music player widget, and you can toggle it there
  • I live in west Virginia along the Ohio river. Less than a quarter mile out my road I have full service , 3G etc. At my house I can barely send a text. And for sure not have any 3G -E- or o. Thanks AT&T
  • My phone stays on E some days and other days on 3G and it happens at the same location. Why is that?
  • It seems when people drive through certain states (i.e. North Dakota, South Dakota) they get either E's or O's. I live in New Jersey, and I always have 3-5 bars and always on 3G. I've only seen E once, and it was a screw-up because I accidentally pressed on the SIM card tray. If you're getting E, O, or NO SERVICE in an area with normally good connection, or then icons hop around when your standing still or walking around your house or a small area, I advise going to your local phone store and fixing/getting a new SIM card for your phone. Also, check the 3G option in your Settings. If you have it turned off, turn it on. It will fix the problem.
  • i have the iphone 3s and have noticed that there is a padlock with a three quarter circle with a arrow symbol up near the battery life symbol. My phone will not go into landscape mode so i guess that is what it meant, But can you please tell me haw to take it off.
  • Okay, so, you double-tap the home button as if you were going to multitask, and swipe to the left to the part where you can control your music. The same padlock is there. Tap it to turn it off.
  • I'm trying to figure Out what's that simbol...
    A phone over 7 little squares (4 & 3 )
    It appears on the right side next to the battery
    Any idea?
    Cheers
  • TTY
  • I saw the "o" symbol for the first time today. Thanks for explaining.
  • Frogs taste nice
  • I'm with optus (Australia) anywhere in my town gets 3G but in my house I don't get any 3G at all I live within 1km from a 3G tower. I have voiced my problems with optus in the past and they always ask if I have a metal roof (which I don't) and always say they will submit a service issue to the service team which I never hear back from. I will always get NO SERVICE or 1 bar O but recently I've been getting a couple of bars of E and didn't know what thar was
  • Will an "e" connection affect my apps? Always had a 3G network and they worked fine. Today (with an E network). They don't work, although I have basic Internet (safari, iTunes store,ect)
  • please I have an icon on the top left corner
    and its a phone with an arrow going to the right what does this mean?
  • It means that call forwarding is turned on.
  • I want to use just wifi, and turn anything else off, otherwise TELCEL (mexican cellphone tyrans) will charme me an eye, you know how to avoid this? I mean getting 3g before wifi?
  • go to settings> network> and turn off Enable 3G and CDN
  • My iPhone says it's connected to wifi but has an "E" at the top and doesn't show it's connected. Am I still using wifi?
  • Ok i have had the O EVERYWHERE!
    And im sitting next to my cuzn and he has full bars of 3g!
    I cant turn my 3g on either! Wen i do, i get NO signal. I turned Airplane mode on and off to reset my signal and still nothn.
    I go down town, my house, EVERYWHERE and nothing!
    So wen i turn 3g off, i get O. THATS IT! My WiFi is greyed out too! So i cant Download anything! Theres no Apple stores near by! Its like 100 and somth miles away. Its very annoying! So before i send it in or make that trip, i wanna see if i can fix it. Ive restored, soft reset, EVERYTHING! PLEASEEE someone help! :((
  • I have a padlock symbol with arrow going around it in the right corner next to the battery. Wat does it mean n how do I get rid of it??
  • Portrait Orientation is locked. i.e. when you tilt the phone the screen doesn't rotate.
    Double tap the home button and drag the menu bar to the right to see the symbol. Tap to toggle.
  • Thanks did the job!
  • I have a lock symbole on the right top of my phone with a corcle arrow aroind it wat does it mean
  • Portrait Orientation is locked. i.e. when you tilt the phone the screen doesn't rotate.
    Double tap the home button and drag the menu bar to the right to see the symbol. Tap to toggle.
  • I have a lock symbole with a arrow going to the right in the right top corner wat does it nean?
  • I have it, too. My WAZE app leaves it on if I use the home button to quit Waze. Quitting from within Waze Itself turns it off. Could this mean the GPS is left on to drain my battery?
  • Portrait Orientation is locked. Unlock it in music controls in the multitasking pane.