Which wireless technology works best for phone and home internet?
5G vs. 4G: Speeds and availability compared
Mobile internet has come a long way. Many of us remember back when loading a text-only website on your BlackBerry was considered futuristic. These days, cellular connections can rival cable and fiber in speed, and have even become viable home internet options.
That said, if you’re interested in the differences between 5G vs. 4G technology, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll explore the two technologies and how they compare, so you can make an informed decision about your own internet and phone service. Let’s jump in!
What is 4G?
4G is the fourth generation of wireless technology. This technology was the successor to 3G, the third-generation tech. 4G was first publicly available in 2009 and has since grown to become the standard for wireless internet and communication—at least, until 5G was released.
4G is often referred to as LTE or 4G LTE. LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution. It’s technically a subtype of 4G technology, alongside WiMAX, although it quickly became the dominant type. Today, WiMAX is almost nonexistent, and LTE has become synonymous with 4G.
LTE has long been the standard for mobile internet, but it’s also taken off as an alternative home internet option over the last few years. However, the relatively slow speeds of LTE can’t quite keep up with cable and fiber for home internet, so it‘s primarily used in rural areas that can’t get other types of service.
4G LTE internet providers
T-Mobile is our favorite LTE home internet provider overall. The company offers excellent prices, good speeds (and it advertises its users’ average speeds, not its theoretically possible speeds like other providers), and unlimited data—all of which make for an excellent home internet experience.
Verizon is similarly solid. Both providers offer significant discounts if you have cellular service with them, so most people will want to go with whichever provider they already use.
That said, it’s hard to recommend LTE home internet when 5G is so widespread. The major 5G providers still offer 4G as a fallback, but it’s not generally any cheaper—it’s more of a last-resort option for those who can only get satellite internet or DSL.
What is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of wireless tech, following 4G. But 5G is not an outright replacement for 4G. Instead, 5G is backward compatible with 4G networks and can utilize these networks as a fallback if necessary.
5G comes in three basic varieties: low-band, mid-band, and millimeter wave.
- Low-band 5G: Long range, slower speeds. Low-band 5G is often found in small towns and rural communities.
- Mid-band 5G: Medium range, medium speed. Mid-band 5G is usually found in cities and larger towns.
- Millimeter wave 5G: Very short range, very fast speeds. mmWave is the fastest type of 5G, but the short range means it’s usually isolated to specific locations, such as stadiums, hospitals, or other crowded areas. Some companies refer to mmWave as Ultra Wideband.
5G is available as a home internet option, like 4G. Unlike its predecessor, 5G can actually rival cable and fiber speeds. When you factor in the typically very low prices of most 5G home internet plans, it becomes a real competitor for cable and fiber and could revolutionize internet access in hard-to-reach areas.
5G internet providers
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Note that T-Mobile advertises its actual average speeds, while Verizon advertises its theoretical maximum speeds. Real-world performance between the two is much closer than the numbers in this table suggest—in fact, T-Mobile often outperforms Verizon, although this is heavily location-dependent.
That said, we actually don’t think there’s much of a choice here—most people should go with whichever provider they already have for cellular service. The reason is simple: T-Mobile and Verizon both heavily discount their 5G home internet for customers with qualifying cell plans. The performance differences between the two are likely to be small enough that price becomes the deciding factor.
Compared to satellite, 5G tends to be both faster and more affordable, sometimes significantly so. However, the availability is still lacking.
4G vs. 5G: What are the differences?
The primary differences between 4G and 5G come down to speed and bandwidth. Both services utilize radio frequencies to transmit data, but 5G can access more frequencies that are higher on the spectrum. This can yield dramatically increased performance and also opens the networks up for increased capacity.
In fact, this capacity was one of the major selling points for 5G as it was rolled out. As the number of connected devices has exploded over recent years (the so-called Internet of Things), networks have experienced increased strain. 5G is capable of handling a huge number of simultaneous device connections, enabling the IoT to continue to grow. 5G is also excellent for packed areas like stadiums and airports, where network congestion can be a real problem.
Is 4G going to be phased out?
There don’t appear to be any plans to phase out 4G any time soon. Most 5G networks use 4G as a fallback or boost when service isn’t available. This is part of the reason mobile internet providers were able to roll out nationwide 5G networks so quickly.
4G LTE remains a widely available and reasonably fast option, so we think it’ll be around for many years to come.
4G vs. 5G internet FAQ
Which is better, 4G or 5G?
5G is better than 4G in basically every way—it’s faster, has more bandwidth and network capacity, and can cover wide areas. That said, most 5G devices are designed to fall back to 4G for coverage when necessary, so it’s hard to say that 4G is useless or obsolete.
What are the disadvantages of 5G?
There aren’t really any disadvantages to 5G, per se, but there are a few ways that it has perhaps failed to live up to the hype. When 5G was first announced, the speeds were said to be revolutionary, but in reality, the majority of 5G coverage is barely faster than 4G LTE. The superfast speeds of mmWave 5G are still primarily reserved for large population centers and busy buildings like stadiums.
Additionally, while many carriers are reaching nationwide availability, many rural areas don’t yet have 5G coverage. This is not a new problem, of course—fewer people means less incentive for carriers to build infrastructure. That said, it’s still a problem.
Finally, the reality is that many users don’t perform tasks that would benefit from the fastest 5G speeds. For a lot of folks, LTE was already plenty fast. This means that a lot of people with access to 5G may not even notice the benefits.
Will there be a 6G?
Yes, there will eventually be a 6G. However, we don’t really know yet what that might look like or when it will be available. At the moment, all we know is that it’s in the research stages and that it will be faster and more energy efficient—at least, according to Nokia Bell Labs. Beyond that, all we can do is speculate.