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All you need to know about 5G vs 4G

By Mint Fox

Originally published June 7, 2022


Last Updated April 18, 2024

Mint Fox hanging upside down above text that reads 5G vs 4G what's the difference

This year, the 3G shutdown is happening to make room for 4G and 5G frequencies. With these recent events, you might be wondering what exactly 4G and 5G are–and what’s the difference between them? Put simply, 4G and 5G are the latest generations of mobile communication. 4G is the fourth (hence the name) generation and an improvement over 3G, while 5G is the fifth (again with the name) generation and an improvement over 4G. One of their biggest differences is speed–5G has the potential to be 100 times faster than 4G. That’s a lot of times.

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In addition, another key difference is latency. Latency is the delay between you requesting a data transfer–e.g. you clicking a link–and how long it actually takes before that transfer occurs. With 4G, latency is 50 milliseconds. With 5G, latency could be reduced to 1 millisecond. 

Other differences include coverage and bandwidth (which is the amount of data that can be transmitted over a network connection). Right now, despite superior speed and latency (which is the time it takes data to be transferred to your phone once you’ve requested it), 4G is more popular than 5G simply because most places have not put up their own 5G towers (although 5G towers are expanding). As for bandwidth, 5G is expected to improve over 4G.

As you can see, 5G is a huge game-changer for wireless, just as 4G has been. Which is why it’s important for the 3G shutdown to happen–to make room for this budding new technology. 
Read on for more about 5G and 4G (and their differences) below.

Comparison of low-band, mid-band, and high-band 5G coverage illustrated with band waves over cityscapes for each bandwidth

What’s the difference between 4G and 5G?

As we mentioned earlier, the main differences between 4G and 5G are that 5G has better bandwidth and latency. For now, 4G beats 5G in network coverage. Read on for more differences between the two. 

How much faster is 5G than 4G?

5G has the potential to be 100 times faster than 4G. Theoretically, it’s top speed could be around 20 Gbps, with real world-speeds being anywhere from 50 Mbps to 3 Gbps. 

5G latency

With 4G, latency is 50 milliseconds. With 5G, theoretical latency could be reduced to 1 millisecond.

5G coverage

As we mentioned earlier, for now, 4G has better coverage than 5G simply because there aren’t many 5G towers and most are clustered in major cities. Right now, 5G can be found in about 100 cities in the United States, in comparison to 4G, which is pretty much everywhere. 

5G bandwidth

5G is expected to have better bandwidth than 4G since it runs on three bands: high-band, low-band and mid-band. Each band has its own speed and thus can be used for different uses–for example, one band could be dedicated to consumers and another to businesses or different industries.

5G cell density

In comparison to 4G, 5G will have higher network density–which means more users and devices can run 5G in comparison to previous generations. With 4G, you may notice sometimes your device is a little slower if you’re using it in a high traffic area, like a concert. 5G is expected to handle 10 to 100 times more devices per square kilometer. That’s a lot.

5G and network slicing

As we mentioned earlier, 5G is able to use something called network slicing. It’s not as violent as it sounds. Network slicing means that 5G networks can operate as separate networks. Each network can be used for a specific purpose and be used for a specific wireless service. This makes 5G more flexible in use than 4G. 

5G base stations

4G uses cell towers to transmit signals, like its predecessors 2G and 3G. 5G, however, uses something called small cell technology in addition to being able to use cell towers for lower frequency spectrums. What this means is that carriers offering 5G will set up small cell stations in 5G-capable areas in addition to network towers. And no, small cell technology isn’t for ants. 

Is 5G better than 4G?

Overall, 5G is expected to be an improvement over 4G, just as 4G was a massive improvement over 3G. But for now, the two will work together, especially since 4G is more widely available and 5G is still in its infancy and not fully up to the task of providing everything the technology may be able to provide one day–which is why you’ll often hear that 5G’s speeds or bandwidth are “theoretical” for now.

What is LTE?

As you read more about 4G and 5G, you’ve probably seen LTE pop up. LTE stands for long term evolution–it refers to the standard way our wireless data is transmitted. LTE is the new standard, while 3G was the old standard. It’s called Long Term Evolution because it refers to the growth between the generations of mobile communication. For more info, check out our blog all about LTE and its meaning.

5G vs 4G LTE

LTE is the technology behind 4G, which means they work together. 4G LTE vs 5G thus means all the differences that apply to 4G vs 5G also apply here, with 5G having superior speed, bandwidth and latency times.  

What about 4G LTE Advanced?

As you discover more about 4G and 5G, you may have heard of 4G LTE Advanced. Think of this as kind of the halfway point between the two generations–it’s better than typical 4G, but not quite on the level of 5G yet. 

What is 5GE?

If you’ve looked at big wireless’ advertisements (our condolences), you may have seen them offering something called 5GE. Is it a better version of 5G? Is it a typo? The answer is “no” to both. 5GE is just a fancy name they gave their version of advanced 4G LTE and has absolutely no connection to 5G. Typical big wireless.

Will 5G replace 4G?

Wireless is an ongoing evolution–as evidenced by 3G being completely shut down this year. However, 5G will not be replacing 4G anytime soon. For now, the two will work together and most phones today are capable of using both 4G and 5G. 

Mint Fox holding a smartphone and giving the thumbs up with a cityscape and the term 5G behind him

How do I get 4G or 5G?

Your phone is most likely already running on 4G. Usually, your phone’s manual or even the box it came from will list that it’s 4G or 4G LTE-capable. You can also double-check via your device.

If you have an Android:

  • Tap Settings > Mobile Networks > Network Mode. From there, you can see if 4G is enabled.

If you have an iPhone:

  • Tap Settings > General > Cellular.  From there, you can see if 4G is enabled.

Here’s how to use 5G (if your phone is 5G-capable).

If you have an Android:

  • Tap Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Network Mode. From there, you can see if 5G is enabled.

If you have an iPhone:

  • If you have an iPhone 12, 13 or SE, your phone should automatically connect to a 5G tower whenever you’re in range.

Wanna get your 5G on?

After hearing about how great 5G is…of course you do. Luckily, we offer 5G for free, so check out our phone plans and, to paraphrase Beyonce, let us upgrade you.

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