In a world where we are constantly moving and always connected, we rely on our phones to keep up with us. We need them for work, for play, and for staying in touch with our loved ones. And as our demands on our phones grow, so too does the technology that powers them. We've gone from 3G to 4G, and now 5G is growing more and more each day.
But what exactly is the difference between these generations of cellular technology? Let's explore the main factors that separate the mobile networks from each other.
5G vs 4G: Speed
Arguably the biggest difference between 4G and 5G is speed.
The download speed of 5G is significantly faster than 4G. This means that you can download files, photos, and videos much more quickly on a 5G network. This is a huge advantage for those who use their phones for streaming content or downloading large files.
5G boasts theoretical download speeds of up to 10 Gbps whilst theoretical download speeds on 4G are only up to 300 Mbps.
Similarly, 5G real world speeds are much faster than 4G averaging around 100-300 Mbps with 4G averaging around 20-40 Mbps.
But faster speeds aren't just about raw data transfer rates. It's also about latency.
5G vs 4G: Latency
Another important difference between 4G and 5G is latency.
Latency is the amount of time it takes for a signal to travel from your device to the network and back again. Lower latency means that there's less of a delay between when you perform an action on your device (like pressing a button) and when you see the results of that action (like the button press registering on the screen).
5G technology has significantly lower latency compared to 4G, which means that actions on your device will happen almost instantly. For example, if you're playing an online game, you'll be able to react to what's happening on-screen much faster with a 5G connection than with a 4G connection.
5G is expected to hit latency rates of just 1 millisecond at some point as this is the theoretical latency rate of the 5G mobile network. Real world latency is currently more like 15-20 milliseconds. The 4G network has real time latency of around 30-40 milliseconds.
5G vs 4G: Coverage and Availability
One of the biggest challenges facing 5G mobile networks is coverage.
Because the 5G network relies on higher radio frequencies, 5G signals don't travel as far as 4G signals. That means that 5G networks will have to be denser than 4G networks in order to provide coverage over a wide area.
4G network coverage in the UK is fairly comprehensive, with most areas having some level of service. The major networks in the UK all now have around 99% population coverage on 4g. However, there are still some rural areas where 4G coverage is patchy or practically non-existent.
Another challenge facing 5G is availability. Because 5G requires a denser network of cell towers, it will be more expensive to roll out than 4G was. As a result, it will likely be some time before 5G is available everywhere, especially in rural areas.
5G is still not as widely available as 4G but it is expanding all the time. In general, you'll find that 5G service is available in major metropolitan cities. So, if you live in or near a large city, you're more likely to have access to 5G than if you live in a rural area.
But as more and more people upgrade to 5G-compatible devices, mobile phone companies will continue to expand their 5G networks to meet the demand.
Take a look at a summary from 2022 of Vodafone and Three's current 5G network performance and coverage.
4G vs 5G: Network Congestion
Another important factor in the 5G versus 4G debate, is that 5G greatly reduces mobile network congestion. Network congestion occurs when there are too many connected devices trying to use the internet all at the same time. This results in slower speeds for everyone who's connected.
4G mobile networks are commonly congested, as there are only a limited number of available frequencies that can be used for 4G. This is not the case with 5G, as it uses higher frequency bands that are less congested. This means that 5G networks can carry more data and are less likely to experience network congestion.
With 5G, there's more capacity for devices to connect simultaneously without experiencing any slowdown. So, even if everyone in your business is video streaming or your whole neighbourhood is trying to connect to the internet at the same time, you should be able to get faster speeds and better performance on your 5G connection compared to on the 4G mobile network.
4G vs 5G: Reliability
The reliability of 5G networks is still being tested, but indications are that 5G networks are more reliable than 4G networks.
One reason for this is the improved capacity of 5G. 5G uses higher frequency bands than 4G, which are less congested and can carry more data. This means that there is less chance of 5G networks becoming overloaded and slowing down.
You'll also likely experience less lag and buffering on the 5G mobile network due to the low latency technology.
The 4G mobile network is commonly used in the UK as alternative broadband for both homes and businesses who cannot get good speeds via traditional fixed line methods. It's great for everyday tasks such as browsing the internet, checking email, and using social media.
4G can also be used for watching video, streaming music, and playing games as well as business applications such as video conferencing, supporting VoIP phones and emails.
5G will enable you to do all the same things, and it will enable you to do it even faster than on 4G with less interruptions and lag. For example, you could be able to download a video up to 5 times faster than 4G, as it should take only minutes on 5G compared to 15 minutes using 4G.
And that's not the only thing 5G will help to improve.
With high capacity and ultra-low latency, 5G will give artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT (Internet of things) applications a major boost across a range of industries, such as agriculture and the vehicle and traffic industry. It will help to make the ability for smart devices to respond quickly and on demand a reality.
So, which is better out of 5G and 4G?
It really depends on your needs and preferences. If you need blazing fast download speeds and low latency, then you'll want to go with 5G. However, if you're not as concerned about speed and just need reliable internet access, then 4G will probably suffice.
If you live in a rural area where coverage isn't as good, then you might not have any choice but to go with 4G until mobile networks expand their 5G networks into more rural areas.
So, there you have it! The winner of the battle between 4G and 5G is down to you and your needs. There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
5G is faster, has lower latency, and is less likely to be bogged down by network congestion. But 4G still has wider coverage at this point in time. So, if you're in an area with good 4G coverage, you may not see much of a difference in terms of speed or latency just yet.
However, once 5G networks have been fully deployed it will be very hard to see any other winner than 5G in this debate.