What is 5G? The networking tech explained
If you’ve heard of 5G but aren’t exactly sure what it is, or how it’s any different from 4G, then read our article to learn all you need to know.
You might see some phones proudly flaunting the ‘5G’ appellation either in their very name, or in the accompanying specs sheet. In fact, sometimes you would have to pay significantly more for a variant that does have 5G rather than one that does not. But what exactly does 5G actually mean?
Well, it’s called 5G because it is the fifth generation of broadband cellular network to have existed, and started succeeding its predecessor 4G from 2019. Mobile broadband allows you to connect to the internet as long as you can get mobile signal, and is particularly convenient when you are travelling from place to place and cannot connect to a Wi-Fi network.
Is 5G better than 4G?
5G promises better performance in all areas than 4G. It is capable of providing faster connectivity speeds, ultra-low latency (the delay between an instruction to move data and the data transfer occurring), and greater bandwidth (the amount of data that can be transferred from one point to another within a specific timeframe).
However, if you switch to 5G phone from a 4G phone, you may not notice all of these advantages. That’s because its network is not yet as widespread as that of 4G. Ofcom estimated in 2021 that 99% of premises in the UK have outdoor 4G coverage, whereas the figure for 5G networks is just 42-57%. Naturally, this coverage is also centred in urban areas. However, 5G networks are expected to be expanded significantly over the coming years.
Should I buy a 5G phone?
At the time of writing, the answer to this question really depends on your personal circumstances. If you are otherwise happy with your current phone and have no other reasons to upgrade, then we’d say you should stick with it for the time being, as 5G does not add a great deal of utility at this point in time to make it worth the expense of a brand new smartphone. However, if you’re buying a new phone anyway, then it’s advisable to buy a 5G capable device just to ensure that it is future proof for the coming years.
Is 5G safe to use?
There is no reason to believe that 5G is harmful. The UK government states:
It is possible that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area. However, the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.
What is sub-6GHz 5G?
Sub-6GHz refers to the frequencies of the radio waves transmitted. 5G can be transmitted on a spectrum of different frequencies, and sub-6GHz is the most common of these. By contrast, the upper band of 4G frequencies in the UK is 2.6GHz.
The higher the frequency of these radio waves, the more data that can be transmitted; however, the catch is that higher frequency waves have a shorter range.
Sub-6GHz refers to mid- and low-frequency bands as far as 5G is concerned, and when connected to these frequencies you can achieve speeds in the hundreds of Mbps (megabits per second). All 5G phones support sub-6GHz frequencies.
What is mmWave 5G?
mmWave (which stands for milllimetre wave) is high frequency 5G that operates at 24GHz and above, up to around 100GHz, and so it can achieve much higher speeds than sub-6GHz 5G.
mmWave connections can provide blistering maximum speeds of up 5Gbps (gigabits per second), but its range is extremely limited; it can only travel around 100m, and struggles to penetrate buildings.
Not all 5G phones support mmWave frequencies, but this high frequency network is much less extensive than sub-6GHz 5G. There is currently no mmWave 5G network in the UK.