How to Understand 5G Speeds

It’s hard to watch TV without a commercial from a wireless provider talking about 5G. 5G is the fifth generation in wireless technology and is poised to bring about speeds faster than the 4G speeds we all know and use daily. 5G is going to change the world, there’s no arguing that. And that’s because of its speed. 5G is going to be so much faster than 4G as well as have lower latency, powering a world of autonomous cars, interconnected smart cities, smart factories, better augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences, and so much more. But let’s break down how to best understand 5G speeds and what it means for you. 

How Fast Will 5G Be? 

First and foremost, no carrier can boast of having a 5G network without meeting specific criteria. For a network to be considered 5G, the carrier must deliver at least 20 Gbps (2.5 GB/s) in download speed and 10 Gbps (1.25 GB/s) in upload speed. For latency, a 5G network must meet the criteria of just 4 milliseconds, with some cases needing latency as low as 1 millisecond for ultra-reliable and low-latency communications (URLLC). URLLC a new service category in 5G that accommodates services and applications (such as autonomous cars or remote surgery) that require almost no latency at all. To help put all of this in perspective, the average speeds for a 4G LTE network is 12-30 Mbps with a latency of anywhere between 50-100 milliseconds- all of which depend on where you’re located. 

What Speeds Will You Actually Get With 5G? 

All the 5G speeds listed above are pretty mind-blowing, we know. But, those metrics are based on perfect network performance in ideal conditions so the average user likely won’t experience those speeds per se, but it will still be much faster than our current 4G networks. (So it’s still a win in our book!) 

The 5G speed which you’ll experience isn’t a straightforward answer unfortunately because it all depends on where you’re located. Carriers are building their 5G networks on a spectrum that uses various bands, low, mid, and high to deploy their services. Low-band delivers the “slowest” speeds on the spectrum however the signal isn’t easily disrupted, therefore it can cover huge areas, which is ideal for more rural areas. Mid-band is a mix of both the low-band and high-band and can deliver faster speeds than what you would experience on the low-band, but the coverage would be a bit more limited. High-band is where you’ll see those peak 5G speeds and the best all-around 5G experience. The high-band delivers an insanely fast signal but has one major downside: the signal is easily disrupted by buildings, walls, trees, and other barriers. In addition, high-band 5G requires an expensive and extensive buildout of small cell towers to keep the signal going. 

All of this to say each carrier is taking a multi-band spectrum approach to building out their 5G network and you’ll likely see different bands of spectrum used in different parts of the country. For example, you may see more low to mid-band 5G in more rural areas just due to the massive and expensive buildout that may be needed to bring high-band 5G to these places. However, if you’re in a densely populated area, such as NYC, or a sports arena, you’ll likely see 5G speeds using the high-band spectrum because it’s easier to deploy there. So the 5G speeds you will experience will be entirely dependent on where you live and what 5G device you have.

What Does 5G Speed Mean For You?

Theoretically, 5G can reach peak speeds of 10 Gbps, but what does that really mean for you? Let’s say you’re trying to download a 3 GB movie with average 5G speeds, this is about how long it would take you to download that movie using different mobile networks: 

  • 3G: 1 hour and 8 minutes
  • 4G: 40 minutes
  • 4G LTE: 27 minutes
  • Gigabit LTE: 61 seconds
  • 5G: 35 seconds 

*Stats sourced from Lifewire 

How to Understand 5G Speeds

It’s clear that 5G is going to usher in a new world of possibilities and change the way things work as we know it because of the sheer speed 5G can deliver. It’s going to take a while for 5G coverage to blanket the US but we’ve already seen 5G rollouts in various cities across our country, mostly through low and mid-band coverage through the end of 2020 with even more planned for the future. One of the best ways to understand what 5G speed will be available to you is to educate yourself on the various bands used to make 5G work and know what’s available in your area. Any way you slice it though, 5G is going to be dramatically faster than any current 4G technologies.