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What is 5G?

By Mint Fox

Originally published March 21, 2023

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Last Updated January 5, 2024

Mint Fox winking behind a 5G sign

It seems nowadays everywhere you look there’s an ad from a wireless company mentioning their 5G; which also means nowadays you might be constantly asking yourself, “What is 5G?” If you’re used to paying for service from big wireless, hearing something that sounds like “5 Gs” may make you think of monthly bills, but it’s actually a good thing and refers to the latest generation of wireless technology. 

For more on 5G, read on.

In this article
Different generations of wireless data from 1G to 5G

What does 5G mean?

As mentioned above, 5G is the newest generation of wireless technology (5G stands for “fifth generation”). Here’s the 411 on the 4 prior generations:

  • The first, 1G (get the naming convention yet?) came up in 1979 and was introduced in Tokyo, spreading throughout the rest of the world in the 1980s. 1G introduced the very first (brick-like) cell phones to the world.
  • 2G launched in the 1990s and brought with it advancements like better sound quality and encrypted calls. It also introduced one of the most important inventions of all time: ringtones. Oh, and y’know, the first SMS and MMS
  • 3G is where we get closer to modern cell phones. Launched in 2001, 3G introduced mobile data, video streaming and chatting, and the ability to actually surf the ‘net on your phone. Instead of the bricks, people were rocking the flip phones during this time period (and dramatically slamming them shut).
  • 4G came up in 2007 in Norway and is still part of the standard alongside 5G. 4G brought in the era of mobile broadband and ushered in higher quality video streaming and chatting, faster web access and HD videos. 

And now we’re back to 5G, which launched in 2019 and was first rolled out by South Korea. As we’ll talk about later, it’s even faster than 4G. While we’re still in the middle of the 5G revolution, some things it could usher in include increasing the possibilities for augmented and virtual reality, bettering car connectivity and the safety of autonomous vehicles and huge advancements in manufacturing and healthcare1.

How does 5G work?

Like most wireless communications systems, 5G uses radio frequencies to carry information through the air; it just uses much higher frequencies that are less cluttered, allowing more information to be transmitted at a much faster rate.  

How fast is 5G?

Let us put on our data nerd hats. Okay, on. 5G’s top speed could be around 20 Gbps (gigabits per second), with real world-speeds being anywhere from 50 Mbps (megabits per second) to 3 Gbps. Overall, it has the potential to be 100 times faster than 4G, which is no slouch itself. As for its latency (a.k.a the time between when you request something and how long it takes your device to fulfill that request – like you clicking a link), that could be reduced to as low as 1 millisecond.

Take a millisecond to let that sink in. 

Okay, you should’ve been finished a long time ago.

Where is 5G available?

Now that 5G’s possibilities have sunk in, you’re probably wondering where you can use it. Check our coverage map to see where 5G is enabled on Mint Mobile. Since we run on the largest 5G network, well, it’s a lot of places. It’s part of why we have the best phone plans.

Also, 5G phones support 4G, too, so if you end up outside a 5G coverage area, your phone will automatically switch to the strongest network signal available. You’ll always know what kind of coverage you’re getting, because your phone will display a 5G icon when receiving a 5G signal. 

5G vs. 4G LTE

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

5G is faster than 4G, of course. But the real benefits are stronger connectivity, better coverage and more reliability. 5G is capable of handling more devices, meaning much less spotty service. And yes, eventually it will be consistently 10x faster than 4G (which sounds kinda wild when you think about how fast 4G is on most phones already). Of course, getting into all the specific differences takes more than just a paragraph, so if you want to get super into the weeds about it, we got you covered.

Network tower showing the different strengths of the low, medium and high bands.

What are the different 5G bands?

Not all 5G is created equal though. Cellular networks run on frequency bands, and 5G is unique as there are three different versions that operate on three distinct frequency bands:

Low-Band (600 MHz)  

  • This signal travels farthest, even through buildings and walls
  • About 20% faster than 4G 
  • This is the band Mint Mobile uses for a majority of its network as it’s the most beneficial to the most users

Medium-Band (2.5 GHz)  

  • Mid-range signal, far more prevalent in recent years especially in major cities 
  • About 2 – 4x faster than 4G
  • This is the band Mint Mobile uses for much of its network

High-Band (millimeter wave) 

  • Millimeter wave is the “extremely high frequency” band, from 30 to 300 GHz
  • The “fastest” signal, but also the least reliable on its own
  • Easily disrupted by weather, buildings, trees, etc
  • Some big wireless providers started their 5G offerings here, smh
  • Available in certain areas if you have a phone that supports this frequency band

Overlapping frequency bands

As it’s become more prevalent, some networks (like Mint Mobile’s) have begun leveraging Medium-Band and High-Band 5G together to deliver faster speeds and offer greater capacity with ultra low latency and ultra high data throughputs. 

What are the benefits of 5G?

  1. Faster speeds: As we mentioned earlier, 5G could end up being 100 times faster than 4G. That means faster downloads and better streaming quality as just two examples.
  1. Lower latency: No more lagging when you ask your device to do something. Gamers, rejoice.
  1. It enables new technology: Expect huge leaps in technology in fields like manufacturing and healthcare.
  2. Better cell density: More devices and users can run on it in comparison to older generations. That means no slowdowns in high traffic areas and greater reliability across the board.
  3. Lower energy consumption: Despite being better, faster, stronger (cue Daft Punk), 5G also uses less energy and could help devices have greater battery durability and a longer shelf life.

Do I need a 5G phone to get 5G? 

Yes, you need to have a 5G-capable phone (you can check yours here) and you need to be in a 5G coverage area.

What are some 5G-compatible phones?

As mentioned earlier, the iPhone 12, iPhone SE (3rd generation), iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 all support 5G cellular networks, as well as many new Android phones. Samsung 5G phones include the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4, Samsung Galaxy S23 and more. Check out our phone shop and this list of 5G phones for more details on compatible models.

Is 5G dangerous?

No, just the same way 4G wasn’t dangerous, 3G wasn’t dangerous and so on. Unless you mean…dangerously fast. Then yeah, it is. 

But seriously. 5G has already been rolled out in countries like Switzerland and Germany and across the U.K. and everything is totally fine. Agencies like the World Health Organization have also concluded it’s safe as long as it follows established safety guidelines for radio frequencies2, as has the FDA3

Ain’t nothing but a 5G thang

We’ve gone over everything from 5G’s latency to frequency bands to Daft Punk references. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, take a look at our plans page to learn more and check out some of our other features, including free mobile hotspot, free calling to Mexico & Canada and more.

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1.https://www.cengn.ca/information-centre/innovation/timeline-from-1g-to-5g-a-brief-history-on-cell-phones/

2. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/radiation-5g-mobile-networks-and-health

3. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/cell-phones/scientific-evidence-cell-phone-safety

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