Spectrum Resource Center

Spectrum Resource Center


What Is 5G? Everything You Need to Know

6:00 Minute Read

What Does 5G mean?

5G, or 5th generation, is the latest global wireless standard after previous 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Imagine downloading a full-length HD movie in under a second – without a WiFi connection. Well, with 5G technology, that can be a reality. Let’s look at how 5G is different and what you’ll need to get started.

What Does 5G Mean for Me?

Major cities across the globe continue to roll out 5G technology, with more infrastructure being installed every day. In 2019, the U.S. and South Korea were the first countries to launch 5G networks. This year, 5G is available in hundreds of cities across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. But what is the difference between 4G and 5G, and what do you need to start surfing and streaming super-fast?

5G currently offers average speeds of up to 25 times faster than 4G LTE. One day, those speeds could be 10 to 100 times faster, up to 10 Gbps. Running on a 5G network means you don’t have to worry about long loading times, slow file downloads or sluggish streaming. 5G delivers reduced latency or "lag time" compared to 4G when connecting to apps or webpages, leading to a better overall mobile experience. The benefits of 5G include:

  • Amazing streaming quality, even in 4K.

  • Trouble-free video conferencing, so you won’t miss a thing.

  • Awesome on-the-go gaming with console-quality action right on your phone.

  • Instant downloads to start watching an HD movie in under a minute.

  • More incredible virtual and augmented realities, thanks to fast-loading graphics.

5G vs 4G: What’s the Difference?

Not only is 5G faster, it can handle up to 1,000 times more traffic than 4G LTE. Mobile networks operate on set frequency ranges, measured in MHz or GHz. When more and more devices send and receive data on the same frequency, it can get pretty crowded.

4G networks operate between a very narrow spectrum of up to 2500 MHz. As we collect more “smart” devices – from home assistants to wireless dog collars – 4G networks won’t be able to sustain the traffic, resulting in dropped calls and slower overall performance.

Most 5G networks operate at a considerably higher spectrum, up to 39 GHz (for now), to avoid the noise and overcrowding of 4G. This spectrum offers a lot more breathing room for our smartphones, VR headsets, smartwatches, self-driving cars and whatever else we dream up in the future. In an increasingly more connected world, 5G speed allows you to keep up with advances in entertainment, productivity and more.

How Does 5G Work?

Not all 5G networks are created equal. There are three main types of 5G service: High-Band, Mid-Band and Low-Band. Each type has advantages and disadvantages.

The main benefit of High-Band 5G service (usually called millimeter wave or mmWave) is simple: it’s the fastest. On the flip side, millimeter wave can’t travel as far as other frequencies and is easily blocked or absorbed by buildings, obstacles, plants and even rain. These networks are often supplemented with “small cell networks” containing mini base stations that distribute cell signals over fixed obstructions.

Mid-Band 5G (also called Sub-6 GHz) operates between 1 and 6 GHz. Mid-Band service offers great speed, range and ability to flow through obstructions. Many cellular carriers are choosing to operate their networks within this band because it’s so practical.

Low-Band 5G service offers the slowest speeds but the widest coverage. Just one Low-Band 5G tower can provide service to customers over hundreds of square miles. Even though Low-Band operates under 1 GHz, it can deliver speeds over five times as fast as 4G.

When you sign up for 5G service, you’ll connect to whichever band your carrier uses – and it’ll depend on where you are using it. So, you may be connecting to Low-Band 5G when you’re at home but switching to High-Band 5G when you travel to certain cities. As infrastructure develops, transitions will be seamless and 4G service will eventually become obsolete.

Spectrum Mobile’s nationwide 5G service combines Low-Band coverage with High-Band coverage. Spectrum's 5G Ultra service – 5G that only operates in the high-band spectrum – launched in 2020 and is available in about 87 cities to date.

For more information, see the interactive Spectrum Mobile Coverage Map, list of 5G Ultra cities and FAQs about Spectrm Mobile's 5G service.

Is 5G Available Now?

If you want to experience 5G technology, you’ll need to know a couple of things. Since 5G service isn’t available everywhere yet, see if your provider offers 5G service in your area. Check out Spectrum Mobile's cellular map and enter your zip code to see if Spectrum Mobile has you covered.

Second, you’ll need a 5G-capable phone. Don’t worry, 5G phones are compatible with 4G and 4G LTE networks too, so it will work in all three types of networks. Conversely, a 4G phone won’t do much for you in a 5G zone – so don’t expect faster service.

You may also want to check the specs of your new phone to see if it’s capable of processing frequencies over 6 GHz. If it’s not, you may not be able to get the most out of a High-Band, millimeter wave network.

This brings us to the final requirement: You’ll need a 5G data plan. Connect your new phone to a 5G data plan to unlock all the exciting benefits that are waiting for you. All Spectrum Mobile plans include nationwide 5G access.

Is 5GHz WiFi the Same as 5G Cellular?

No. While they use similar, wireless technology, a 5GHz WiFi connection simply means that the router is broadcasting on the 5 GHz frequency. While this isn’t the same thing as 5G mobile technology, access to out-of-home WiFi locations can help bridge the gap where 5G mobile service is limited or unavailable.

Learn how Spectrum Mobile gets you the fastest in-network speeds with an advanced network combining the latest cellular technology with Spectrum Mobile out-of-home WiFi.

A Brighter Future with 5G

5G networks aren’t just about getting super-fast cell service. The implementation of 5G has facilitated incredible technological advancements. This includes a whole new landscape of driverless vehicles for personal and commercial use. It’ll breathe new life into the Internet of Things (or IoT) and create a multitude of smart cities. It’ll also allow extraordinary advancements in medicine such as remote surgery to allow a surgeon to operate on patients from thousands of miles away with utmost precision.

All Spectrum Mobile data plans include 5G nationwide service at no extra fee. If you’re already a Spectrum Internet customer, you’re eligible to sign up for Spectrum Mobile. And, if you’re not a Spectrum Internet subscriber, it’s easy to sign up and then add the Spectrum Mobile plan that fits you. Check out Spectrum Mobile’s Unlimited data plans and sign up today.

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