Tech-obsessed or technophobe, you’re sure to have heard of 5G. 5G connectivity has been around for at least 3 years, and the latest handsets are primed to harness the power of next-generation connectivity. So if you’re in the market for an upgrade, this is the guide to read if you want to know more about 5G, how fast it is, whether 5G is worth it and how to get it. Plus, we’ll compare 4G vs. 5G and give you a breakdown of what’s changed.

What is 5G and what does 5G mean?

5G is the fifth-generation mobile network. This is the latest iteration of the technology that allows us to make phone calls and access the internet on our wireless devices. 5G is designed to deliver faster download speeds, better signal strength and call quality, reduced latency times, and much faster, more reliable, and more capable service than its predecessor, 4G.

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If you want to know how it might impact your day-to-day digital activities, 5G allows instant streaming and prevents buffering, so expect fewer interruptions when you’re gaming or catching up on a favourite TV show, and better picture quality for video calls with friends and family.

How fast is 5G?

There are a lot of factors that could impact your 5G speeds, including where you are, what device you’re using, what 5G network you’re connected to, and how many others are connected, too.

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Those variables aside, 5G has been created to deliver peak data rates up to 20Gbps and a latency time (the time taken to open a downloaded file) of one millisecond. Download speeds are expected to reach up to 10Gbps and you’ll be able to stream media and play games in higher resolutions, such as 4K. You’ll also be able to upload media faster than ever before. Like the improved download speeds, it’s estimated that upload speeds will reach up to 10Gbps too, so you can post your picture to Instagram or upload a video to YouTube in next to no time.

4G vs. 5G: how do they compare?

5G vs. 4G: speed

Perhaps the most notable difference between 4G and 5G is speed. 4G mobile networks currently offer maximum download speeds of 300Mbps, compared to 5G’s max. 10Gbps – that’s over 200 times faster. While a 4G connection can take around five minutes to download an HD movie, 5G network speeds can manage this in under 40 seconds.

5G vs. 4G: latency

4G has a latency of 50 milliseconds compared to 5G’s one millisecond - that's 50 times better than 4G. Forget waiting for your phone to respond to your commands.

5G vs. 4G: capacity

Another benefit of 5G is its increased capacity. As it stands, all mobile networks use radio waves to transfer data, but 5G will use higher frequencies than 4G to do this. In fact, 5G will use extremely high frequencies between 30 and 300GHz, while 4G uses frequencies below 6GHz.

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Higher frequencies mean larger bandwidths, and larger bandwidths mean more capacity to use data – like using apps or streaming and downloading media - with less existing cellular data clutter than 4G.

The higher frequencies of 5G can also be used next to other wireless signals without causing any interference. This means that 5G will really work well in high-traffic, highly crowded areas, as it isn’t affected by the signals around it.5G makes data more accessible to you, faster than ever before.

5G also uses wavelengths differently than 4G. As it stands, 4G emits radio waves in all different directions, but 5G uses them linearly, allowing for smoother performance and a more reliable connection with less signal interference.

A brief history of mobile networks

1G: the first mobile network

1G was the first generation of mobile networks and the first-ever form of wireless technology. It was created in the USA in 1979 but was not available internationally until the early 1980s. 1G was a form of analogue technology, which means it could only support voice calls and there was no internet connection available. The frequency operated on narrow bands and the maximum speed of 1G technology was 2.4Kbps, meaning the voice quality was poor, and calls were prone to dropping.

It may seem basic now, but in the 1980s, 1G was a revolutionary technology.

2G: From analogue to digital

Mobile technology got a major upgrade with the introduction of 2G in 1993. 2G added a host of benefits and upgrades from 1G, the major one being that it took phones from analogue to digital communication.

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This switch meant that systems such as SMS text messages, MMS multimedia messages, and picture messages were available for the first time. Call and text encryption that adds privacy to data and voice calls was also a new feature for 2G, paving the way for better mobile security.

The maximum speed 2G operates on is 14.4Kbps, a significant improvement on the 2.4Kbps maximum of 1G. The bandwidth also switched from analogue to 25Mhz, making browsing the web and downloading data possible for the first time.

3G: Web browsing arrives

3G was established in 2001, with a wide range of enhancements and benefits. The term ‘mobile broadband’ was first introduced with 3G technology, as it completely revolutionised the mobile data offering.

Web browsing, enhanced audio and visual streaming and global roaming were all first available with 3G. Plus, the technology made video conferencing, IPTV (watching TV through an internet connection), and GPS possible for the first time, proving how far mobile technology has come since 1G and 2G.

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The maximum speed for 3G technology is 3.1Mbps; that’s a great deal faster than 2G. These improvements meant that users could browse the web and download and upload data at higher speeds, with a connection that is far more reliable in comparison to its predecessors.

4G: enables streaming and downloading

Improving speeds, security and connection even further, 4G was first introduced in 2009 and is still widely used today.

4G supports web browsing, video conferencing, apps, mobile TVs, and streaming media as 3G does, but it’s also capable of handling applications that need better speeds and connection, such as gaming, streaming media in high resolution, and wearable tech, including fitness trackers.

5G: the super-fast next generation

We’ve covered the main benefits of 5G for mobile phones earlier in this article, but it’s not only the phone experience that is improved with 5G. Using a 5G network means greater potential for the IoT (Internet of Things). IoT refers to all devices that are connected to one network and will be used across many different businesses and industries. Whereas earlier networks can’t support this much tech at once, 5G, along with the better connectivity, higher capacity, and improved speeds, can. 5G is playing a critical role in the development and introduction of self-driving cars, smart home appliances, and remote healthcare and surgeries.

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Is 5G worth it?

5G hasn’t yet reached its full potential, however, it is the future of mobile technology, so it’s no surprise that a 5G-ready phone will set you up for years to come. 5G phones are not only equipped with the ability to connect to a 5G network but they are made with improved internal tech and specs too. From more powerful processors to improved battery life, 5G phones are built with the future in mind.

5G-ready phones are unlikely to feel outdated any time soon, thanks to all the advances in their onboard technology. So, if you are looking to buy a 5G-ready phone, you can be confident it'll stand the test of time. An important consideration with your next phone purchase, as more and more people, are keeping hold of their handsets after initial contracts end.

How to get 5G: what does 5G-ready mean?

To connect to the 5G network, you'll need to be using a 5G-ready device. 5G-ready handsets feature a 5G-specific modem but will still be able to connect to 4G and 3G networks, so you'll never be without a connection even if you leave a 5G-supported area. You’ll also need a 5G-ready plan with a network that provides 5G in the location you’d like to use it.

Does 5G use more data?

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5G doesn’t use more data, but as you’ll be able to do much more with your device, you might find yourself using more data anyway.

When will 5G be nationwide in the UK?

5G is being rolled out in the UK in stages, across various locations, and different mobile networks have different roll-out schedules. Make sure to check your chosen network provider’s coverage map before committing to a 5G contract.

The entire UK will eventually receive 5G coverage. 4G won't be replaced completely, but it will be used significantly less (similar to the current status of 3G).

Whether you decide to invest in a 5G-ready phone or not, you’ll find quality handsets from Apple, Samsung, Google, Oppo, and other top brands at Mobiles.co.uk.