5G VS 4G: Despite the ongoing pandemic and recent unsubstantiated rumours about the dangers of 5G, the fifth generation of mobile networking is here and becoming more prominent by the day. With the increase in remote working in 2020 and 2021, the rollout of 5G network coverage may be faster than expected as more activities move online. All three major service providers have already deployed nationwide networks and plan to expand and improve their 5G rollout over the next few years.
5G has the potential to change the way we use technology in the future. Is it, however, worthwhile to upgrade to a 5G phone? It’s time to learn everything there is to know about 5G technology and see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be.
5G vs. 4G: What is the difference in speed?
We’ve looked at how fast 5G is before, but there’s no set network speed to expect. Instead, think of 5G as a speed range, with the actual speeds you get depending on which wireless network you connect to, how busy it is, what device you’re using, and a few other factors. This table provides a rough estimate of the maximum speeds of each generation of cellular network technology as well as the average speeds in the real world:
Perhaps the average speed row above is more important than the maximum speed column, given that the peak speed here is theoretical, and you’ll almost certainly never reach those download speeds.
The topic is further complicated by the variety of different technologies used in each generation, geographical differences in coverage, and the fact that mobile technology evolves and improves over time. For example, with the development of LTE (Long-Term Evolution) and then LTE-A, 4G has improved significantly over its lifetime (Long-Term Evolution Advanced). With the most recent 4G LTE-A developments, theoretically, you can achieve up to 1Gbps, which is comparable to what 5G offers. In the real world, average speeds will inevitably be much lower.
To put that speed into perspective, 1Gbps (gigabits per second) equals 1,000Mbps (megabits per second). Megabits are distinct from megabytes in that a megabyte contains 8 megabits (Mb) (MB). As a result, 1Gbps equates to 125MB per second. An MP3 file could be 5MB, a TV episode could be 350MB, and a Blu-ray movie could be 15GB (15,000MB) or larger. If you have a 1Gbps connection, you could download a Full HD Blu-ray quality movie in under two minutes.
If you have a 1Gbps connection, you could download a Full HD Blu-ray quality movie in under two minutes.
While 4G technology is still evolving, realistically, you can expect speeds ranging from 10Mbps to 50Mbps. When it comes to streaming speeds, Netflix recommends 25Mbps for Ultra HD quality. For HD, you only need 5Mbps. The goal for 5G is to achieve an average minimum of 50Mbps; however, the minimum is currently much lower, and the average is around 57Mbps, according to Speedcheck. It’s always nice to have faster speeds, but that’s not the main draw of 5G because 4G speeds are already quite good. What 4G isn’t so good at is latency.
5G vs. 4G: Latency
Latency is the amount of time it takes for data from your device to be uploaded and delivered to its destination. It measures the amount of time it takes data to travel from source to destination in milliseconds (ms). It’s critical for applications like gaming, where response time can affect the outcome. It could also be useful for self-driving cars if data is sent to the cloud and quick decisions can trigger a reaction to break or avoid an obstacle in real-time.
With current 4G networks, you can expect an average latency of around 50ms. With 5G technology, this could be reduced to 1ms. To put that in context, an image seen by the human eye takes at least 10ms to be processed by the brain. Low latency is essential for real-time reactions in machines or cars, and it may also enable cloud gaming. Gamers could play on remote hardware using their phones, as services like Google Stadia and Blade’s Shadow suggest. Aim for a latency of 1ms, which is achievable in near-perfect scenarios. The average latency on 5G will most likely be around 10ms.
Reduced latency may prove to be the true motivator for 5G deployment and adoption, but there are numerous challenges ahead.
5G vs. 4G: Coverage
It has taken years for 4G networks to spread throughout the world, and many rural areas still rely on 3G networks. Even where 4G coverage exists, speeds vary greatly. We anticipate that the full rollout of 5G networks will take some time; however, all three major carriers have made significant advances in 5G coverage in recent months. All three major carriers now offer “nationwide” networks based on the Sub-6 spectrum, with plans to expand those networks with additional spectrum and wide coverage over the next year.
For the uninitiated, 5G is built with a wide range of radio frequencies. Sub-6 refers to frequencies less than 6GHz, and while these waves can travel long distances, they cannot support ultra-high download speeds. On the opposite end of the 5G spectrum is mmWave, which has a significant advantage in terms of download speed but cannot travel far or penetrate obstacles.
Initially, Verizon used mmWave for its 5G network, and as a result, you could only connect to Verizon 5G in certain areas of certain cities. Thankfully, the company now uses Sub-6 for its nationwide mobile network, as T-Mobile did from the start.
Other distinctions between 5G and 4G
We don’t just need carriers to put network equipment in place for us to take advantage of 5G connectivity. We also need to purchase a 5G device, such as the Motorola Edge Plus (exclusive to Verizon). Depending on where you live, if you have one of the latest 5G handsets, you may be able to enjoy 5G speeds. However, if your phone is older, you may want to consider upgrading if you want these faster speeds. The first batch of 5G smartphones has arrived, and there are already some excellent options, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G and the OnePlus 8 Pro. It’s also worth noting that 5G is likely to be much more power-demanding, which means that battery life, which is already a problem for many, maybe about to get worse.
5G doesn’t mean 4G is done
When a 4G network is unavailable, many of us still rely on 3G, and this is exactly what will happen with 5G. The notion that 5G will be a direct replacement for 4G is incorrect. It is, in fact, a complementary technology. With the two working together, you should be able to get good — or at least adequate — speeds on your mobile device no matter where you are.
It’s also worth noting that carriers are constantly upgrading their 4G networks and that both download speeds and latency can be improved further. Despite the fact that carriers are devoting more time and resources to 5G wireless technology, 4G networks are likely to improve, resulting in faster speeds overall.