What Is 5G – and How Will It Improve Rural Internet?

5G is the newest generation of cellular tech, offering faster speeds than 4G LTE, and expanding to rural America.
T-Mobile 5G home internet
  • pro
    Price: $40.00—$50.00/mo.*
  • pro
    Download speed: 72–245Mbps
  • pro
    Data: Unlimited
Verizon 5G home internet
  • pro
    Price: $35.00–$80.00/mo.
  • pro
    Download speed: 25–1,000Mbps
  • pro
    Data: Unlimited

*w/Autopay and qualifying mobile plan.

Ben Gran
Jan 24, 2024
Icon Time To Read8 min read

5G stands for “fifth generation,” the newest and fastest evolution of wireless technology. Previous generations of cellular infrastructure were called 4G, 3G, and 2G.

These complex networks provide the “rails” that the mobile internet runs on, and with 5G, the trains keep running faster. Especially for people who live in rural areas where internet options are limited, 5G technology brings a wider range of internet accessibility—with faster speeds, bigger capacity, and more reliable connectivity. You can even get 5G home internet now.

Although cities offer the fastest levels of 5G, providers continue to expand 5G in rural areas. Most rural areas already have access to 4G because 4G has a longer range, but 5G networks could bring the fast internet speeds that rural areas have been dreaming of.

Let’s take a deeper look at how 5G works, where you can access 5G service, and how it can help deliver better internet service for rural areas.

Avg. 5G speeds*186.3 Mbps84.9 Mbps71.1 Mbps
5G availability (# of people covered)†325 million 175 million290 million
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*Speeds and availability data come from the Opensignal USA 5G Experience Report, January 2023. 

†5G availability numbers from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Opensignal (for Verizon).

Why does 5G matter?

5G speeds significantly beat previous generations of cellular service, and this new generation provides more secure and stable connectivity. 5G also offers a much lower latency experience, making it better for gamers as well..

That all matters because, with 5G wireless infrastructure, consumers get access to higher-capacity, higher-quality mobile phone and home internet options. This access leads to enhanced mobile broadband, fixed wireless internet service, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity for equipment like security cameras without Wi-Fi.

This new tech also brings much-needed bandwidth to densely populated places (like sports stadiums or hospitals) and faster, more reliable cellular data service to rural areas that were underserved by traditional wireless infrastructure.

How does 5G work?

5G works by using radio waves. Some of these capabilities are not new; 4G and 4G LTE also used radio waves. But 5G uses a new band of radio spectrum called “millimeter waves,” something we only saw previously in satellites and radar systems. That’s what makes 5G so fast-it uses parts of the radio waves that previous generations of cell technology could not access. 

The 5G networks also run through mini-base stations called “small cells” to provide better coverage in urban areas. The small cells use massive MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) technology with dozens of antennas per device, providing a stronger signal and less interference. Think of the 5G small cells as wireless routers for your entire neighborhood, boosting the signal to everyone’s mobile devices.

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What types of 5G are there?

Different mobile service providers offer different levels of 5G coverage depending on where you are within the coverage map.

Type of 5G
Low-band spectrum30–75Mbps
Mid-band spectrum115–223Mbps
Millimeter wave spectrum450 Mbps–1Gbps

One of the biggest trends in 5G service is the rise of standalone 5G networks. In the early days of 5G, mobile carriers used some (older) 4G infrastructure to deliver 5G service. But now, as the 5G networks have been built out, more carriers promote their newer standalone 5G networks that use only the newest, 5G-specific technology and can deliver much faster speeds. For example, in March 2023, T-Mobile announced that its new 5G SA (standalone) network is capable of delivering speeds over 3.3 gigabits per second (Gbps)—equivalent to 3,300Mbps!

Just like satellite internet service, you probably won’t get the fastest 5G speeds all day, every time. Your exact experience with 5G will depend on network demands and location. As you go about your day or travel between cities, you might notice your mobile device switching between 4G and 5G service or experiencing faster or slower levels of 5G.

The three levels of 5G frequencies and where you’ll find them:

  • Low-band 5G (600-700 MHz): Towns, rural communities, low-density population areas
  • Mid-band 5G (2.5–3.5 GHz): Cities, towns, mid- to low-density population areas
  • Millimeter wave 5G (28 GHz): Sports stadiums, parks, hospitals, factories

Most small towns and rural areas don’t receive the fastest level of millimeter wave 5G, but it might be used at specific locations like the local hospital. But more and more rural areas are falling within the coverage area for faster 5G service. Even at the low-band levels, 5G could be the fastest, most effective way for many small towns and rural communities to receive internet service.

Where is 5G available?

Availability (% of cell phone time user connects to 5G)







Data from Opensignal USA 5G Experience Report, January 2023.

5G coverage is available to most of the United States, including many rural areas and small towns. However, you’ll find the fastest levels of 5G in cities. 

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are the three major cellular carriers of 5G service in the U.S.. Check their coverage maps to see if 5G is available in your area. Naturally, you’ll need a wireless plan with one of the providers and a 5G phone or other device to access the network.

T-Mobile has the nation’s largest, fastest 5G network so far, with 325 million Americans covered by its 5G network. T-Mobile is also expanding its super-fast Ultra Capacity 5G Network from 265 million Americans to 300 million Americans by the end of 2023. 

Verizon and AT&T continue to expand their nationwide 5G networks as well, but they don’t have as wide of coverage as T-Mobile. Also, the fastest levels of 5G service are often not available outside of cities. Depending on where you live, especially in rural areas, you might have to settle for slower (low-band) 5G or 4G LTE coverage for now.

Bottom line: Most parts of the U.S. now have some level of 5G service, but you should check the 5G coverage map for each carrier before you decide to sign up for (or switch) mobile service. T-Mobile has the biggest 5G network, and gets the highest marks for overall availability of 5G. But Verizon might be able to offer faster 5G speeds in some cities. And AT&T covers some parts of the country that T-Mobile doesn’t reach. 

Pro tip
Light Bulb

Pay attention to the overall availability of 5G service. A January 2023 report from Opensignal found that T-Mobile customers had the best experience with availability: they could access 5G 49.7% of the time when they were on their phones. AT&T customers in areas with 5G could get it 20.5% of the time, and Verizon customers just 8.8%.

What is ultra 5G and 5G Ultra Wideband?

Some mobile providers offer super-fast 5G in certain coverage areas, and they are branding this service with colorful, powerful-sounding names, like AT&T’s 5G+, T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G, and Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband. These ultra-fast 5G options use millimeter wave 5G spectrum for the fastest possible experience. However, the coverage map for the fastest levels of 5G is still limited; it tends to be offered in high-traffic locations like big cities, sports venues, and airports. 

Check your provider’s coverage map to see if the fastest 5G experience is available near you. And rest assured that even if your community is not yet covered by ultra 5G, the overall 5G network continues to be built and expanded by big investments from wireless carriers. 5G is getting better and faster, in more places, with each passing day. 

What is 5G UW?

5G UW is another way to refer to 5G Ultra Wideband, which is Verizon’s branded version of mid-band 5G. Read above for more on the service.

Is 5G available in rural areas?

The past few years have seen rapid expansion of 5G networks, and 5G is now available in many rural areas throughout the U.S. However, the fastest levels of 5G are not available in all locations, and some parts of the map, especially in the Mountain West, are still not reachable by 5G. 

Small towns and rural areas are likely to receive low-band and mid-band 5G service, but faster millimeter wave 5G could be getting deployed at your local hospitals, factories, and agricultural sites. On the whole, 5G access is a game-changer for rural areas: faster internet, better connectivity, and lower costs than previous generations of wireless technology. 

5G Home Internet - the wave of the future?

Speeds & data

T-Mobile 5G Home Internet

$40—$50/mo. (w/ phone plan)

  • Averages 72–245Mbps
  • Unlimited data

Verizon 5G Home Internet

$35/mo. (w/ Verizon 5G mobile phone plan) or $60/mo. (w/out)

  • 25 Mbps–1,000Mbps*
  • Unlimited data

Starry Internet

  • Up to 200Mbps speeds
  • Unlimited data

Data as of May 2023 availability may vary by location and are subject to change. *Advertised speeds.

In addition to mobile phone service, 5G is also used for delivering home internet. 

5G internet works similarly to fixed-wireless internet. A 5G transmitter—usually affixed to a light post or electrical utility box—will send a signal to nearby apartment buildings and residential complexes, providing internet service to customers who live inside.

5G home internet is not yet available nationwide like 5G mobile phone service. Verizon’s 5G home internet is estimated to reach only 40 million households, while T-Mobile’s service is available to 50 million households. 

But 5G internet could become a lot more popular over the coming years as more cellular providers build up their 5G networks. And in the meantime there’s another, much more accessible option for rural customers—4G LTE Home Internet.

4G LTE Home Internet—a great alternative

Speeds & data

Verizon LTE Home Internet

$35/mo. (with qualifying 5G mobile phone plan and Autopay), or –$60/mo.
  • Approx. 25–50Mbps
  • Unlimited data

T-Mobile Home Internet Lite

  • $50.00/mo. for 100GB
  • $75/mo. for 150GB
  • $100/mo. for 200GB
  • $150/mo. for 300GB
  • Approx. 4-35Mbps
  • 100GB–300GB monthly data

UbiFi 5G/4G/LTE Internet

  • Up to 200Mbps
  • Unlimited monthly data

Ladybug Wireless

Starting at $124.99/mo.
  • Up to 60Mbps
  • 300GB–700GB monthly data

Data as of May 2023. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

In case 5G home internet is not yet available in your area, 4G LTE home internet is a great option right now for rural internet customers.

Verizon, T-Mobile, and several other providers offer well-priced 4G LTE home internet options. Although speeds vary depending on where you are in the provider’s service area, most plans fall in the range of 10–60 Mbps. And you get more monthly data than you would get from a satellite plan—usually unlimited data. Slam dunk!

Sure, it may not be 5G. But four Gs are better than none.

What is 6G and when will it come out?

Wireless technology innovators aren’t done yet: after 5G, there is going to be another “next” generation of cellular data standards, and it’s already known as “6G,” or “sixth generation.” 

As described by Nokia, 6G will focus on connecting the digital, physical, and human worlds to make people significantly more efficient and improve the way we care for the planet. 6G research is already underway at Nokia Bell Labs, and they expect 6G to become commercially available by 2030.

5G phones

Most recently manufactured smartphones are compatible with 5G, including most recent Android phones and iPhones 12 on up. Be sure to read the fine print before buying a new phone, but in general, unless the phone is several years old, it should have the right hardware to work with 5G. 

Here’s a breakdown of some of our favorite 5G phones and devices so far:

Best for...
Best overallSamsung Galaxy S23 Plus$999.99 (256 GB)$999.99 (256 GB) 6.6" Adaptive
Best featuresiPhone 14 $688.97 (128 GB)6.1" Super Retina XDR with OLED
Best cameraOnePlus 11 5G$798.99 (256 GB)6.7" AMOLED
Best budget pickSamsung Galaxy A54 5G$374.99 (128 GB)6.4" FHD+ Infinity-0

Amazon.com Price (as of May 2023). See full disclaimer.

5G pros and cons

Is 5G a good option for home internet? Most internet service providers (ISPs) are in the early stages of launching and expanding their 5G home internet service, and it’s not yet available in many areas. But this unique type of internet service has some upsides and possible cost-savings that make it a good option.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of 5G home internet so you can make the best choice for your situation.

5G home internet pros
pro Affordable plans starting at $25-$30/mo. when bundled with phone plan
pro Faster speeds than some other home internet options
pro Unlimited data
pro Some providers don’t require a contract and will help pay termination fees
5G home internet cons
con Not yet available nationwide; only 40–50 million households
con Speeds depend on location
con Might not be as fast as other home internet options
con Home internet data may be deprioritized for mobile customers

Bottom line: 5G home internet is an exciting development, and it may become the perfect solution for many home internet customers. But it’s not yet available nationwide, especially in rural areas that (for now) tend to be out of range of the fastest 5G experience. 

Depending on your location and what limitations you’re experiencing with your current ISP, 5G home internet could be worth trying. But don’t assume that 5G will automatically be the fastest internet option for your home. Cable, fiber, or some of the fastest satellite internet providers could be a better fit.  

FAQ about 5G

5G is the newest, highest standard in wireless technology. 5G delivers faster speeds, lower latency, and more stable connectivity for mobile internet and home internet services provided via cellular data networks. 5G builds upon the capabilities of 4G wireless standards and incorporates new technology to deliver better performance.

5G stands for the “fifth generation” of cellular technology. It follows in the footsteps of 4G, 3G, 2G, and 1G cellular standards.

A 5G network is a wireless cellular network that delivers internet data to cell phones, mobile devices, and computers. Some 5G networks are built upon 4G radio towers and other infrastructure, but many 5G providers are now offering standalone 5G networks that are made entirely of new, 5G-specific equipment. As 5G technology continues to expand and improve, the 5G internet experience is becoming faster, more responsive. 5G is enabling a wider range of internet activities all over the U.S., including in rural areas that were hard to reach with the usual internet wires-and-cable infrastructure.


Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SatelliteInternet.com utilizes paid Amazon links.


Ben Gran
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