The emergence of 5G networks has led many to wonder if it is actually an improvement over the existing 4G LTE networks. This article provides an in-depth comparison of the two technologies and analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of each to help readers understand if 5G is truly better.
Key Differences Between 4G LTE and 5G
While 5G promises faster speeds and lower latency, there are some key differences that distinguish it from 4G LTE:
- Bandwidth: 5G operates on high-frequency bands which equates to more bandwidth and faster speeds. However, higher frequencies have limitations around obstacles and distance.
- Latency: The biggest improvement 5G brings is much lower latency down from 30-50ms on LTE to <10ms. This enables real-time use cases.
- Connection density: 5G allows connecting up to 1 million devices in 1 square km compared to 4G’s support for only up to 100,000 devices.
Advantages of 5G Over LTE
While newer doesn’t always mean better, 5G does bring some key improvements:
- Faster speeds: 5G brings theoretical peak speeds of up to 20 Gbps down from 1 Gbps on LTE. Real-world speeds will be lower but still faster than LTE.
- Lower latency: The <10ms latency enables real-time applications like self-driving cars, IoT, real-time streaming that were not possible or consistent on 4G.
- Connectivity scale: The ability to connect over 1 million devices in close proximity allows new types of services for large sensor networks.
- Reliability: 5G brings more reliability for mission critical use cases with ultra-reliable low latency connections.
One of the most touted benefits of 5G is faster speeds with theoretical peaks claims up to 20Gbps down from 1Gbps peak speeds on 4G LTE. Real-world speeds will be lower than the advertised peaks but most users should still see faster speeds than their LTE connections.
Arguably bigger than just faster pure speeds is the very low latency 5G enables. Latency on 5G can be under 10ms down from 30-50ms on LTE. This allows for new use cases that require real-time responsiveness like industrial automation, self-driving vehicles, real-time video collaboration apps.
More Reliable Connections
5G introduces something called ultra-reliable low latency connections (URLLC) which provide incredibly fast and consistent response times below 1ms to support mission critical services and use cases. This level of reliability enables things like remote precision surgery or autonomous factory equipment.
While faster peak speeds garner the headlines, 5G technology also allows connecting far more devices simultaneously. A 5G connection can support over 1 million devices per square kilometer compared to only 100,000 devices on LTE. This dense connection scale is necessary for large deployments of IoT and smart city sensors.
Advantages Still Offered by LTE
While 5G brings noteworthy advancements, existing mature LTE networks do retain some advantages:
- Wider coverage: LTE enjoys near ubiquitous coverage after a decade plus of deployment while 5G rollouts still have a long way to go.
- Device support: The installed base of LTE devices and chipsets supporting LTE bands still dwarfs that of 5G. Most laptops, tablets and wearables still use LTE chips.
- Power efficiency: LTE devices especially for things like wearables and sensors can still provide longer battery life than first generation 5G chipsets. However, new 5G modems close this gap.
More Mature Coverage
The most obvious current advantage of LTE is the existing wide coverage offered by networks like Verizon or AT&T that have been building out LTE capacity for over a decade now. 5G coverage is still largely restricted to populated urban areas or neighborhoods.
Legacy Device Support
Given the relative recency of 5G network launches and device chipsets, there are simply far more consumer gadgets and enterprise endpoints that still utilize LTE for connectivity rather than 5G radios. Most phones, cars, laptops, tablets, etc still support LTE bands.
Early 5G modems and devices require more power to support 5G bands which reduces battery life. However, newer second generation 5G chipsets close this gap. Still many wearables or sensors may utilize lower power LTE chips to conserve battery capacity.
Is 5G Truly Better Than LTE?
There is no definitive “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Here are the key considerations:
- For sheer peak download speeds – 5G is the clear winner
- For real-time responsiveness, 5G’s low latency makes it better
- For supporting massive scale sensor networks, 5G offers higher density
- For mission critical services, 5G brings more reliability
However, LTE retains advantages around coverage area, device support and power efficiency that make it still very relevant. It may take years for 5G coverage and adoption to surpass LTE networks.
The answer depends a lot on the actual use case. For typical consumers streaming movies or browsing social feeds, LTE may still meet needs. For gaming or video calls, lower 5G latency brings benefits. For smart cities or industrial apps, only 5G allows things like interconnected autonomous vehicles.
So while 5G is clearly more advanced technology, both networks have advantages that depend on your specific needs. Over time as 5G matures, its superior capabilities will likely dominate most connectivity use cases.
- 5G brings faster peak speeds (20 Gbps vs 1 Gbps), lower latency (<10ms vs 30-50ms), and massive 1M/sq.km density
- LTE still offers the advantage of wider coverage, legacy device support and marginally better power efficiency
- 5G is clearly better suited for emerging use cases like IoT sensors, self-driving cars, cloud gaming, etc
- LTE meets most users needs today for smartphones apps, streaming media and browsing
- Over time, 5G coverage and use case support will likely make it the dominant cellular network
In summary – 5G is certainly the more advanced cellular networking technology over 4G LTE with clear advantages in speeds, latency, reliability and connection density. However, LTE retains merits around coverage area, legacy device support and marginal power efficiency. Use cases involving gigabit speeds, real-time responsiveness or massive sensor networks will benefit most from transitioning to 5G now where supported. For many consumer mobility usages like web browsing or GPS navigation, LTE may still meet their needs for some time. As 5G coverage expands over the next few years and becomes standardized across devices, it will likely obsolete LTE the same way 4G overtook 3G several years ago.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is 5G dangerous to human health?
A: There has been no credible evidence linking 5G signals to any negative health impacts. 5G networks operate well below safety limits for radio wave exposure as defined by health organizations.
Q: Does 5G have more radiation than 4G?
A: No – 5G signals do not inherently emit higher levels of radiation compared to existing cellular networks. Safety standards account for differences in frequencies used.
Q: Will LTE networks disappear once 5G is widespread?
A: While 5G will likely take over most mobility use cases, cellular carriers will maintain existing LTE networks for several more years to support legacy 4G-only devices in the field.
Q: What frequency bands are used by 5G in the USA?
A: Major 5G deployments in the USA use 600MHz, 2.5GHz and mmWave high-frequency bands above 24 GHz depending on the carrier and use case.
Q: Does weather affect 5G signals?
A: Yes – Heavy rain or snow can temporarily impact high frequency mmWave 5G signals which operate at shorter distances than lower 5G frequencies.
Q: Can trees and buildings block 5G signals?
A: Obstacles like trees or buildings have more of an effect on higher frequency 5G mmWave signals but carriers combine various 5G frequency layers to mitigate this.
Q: Is a 5G SIM card required for 5G access?
A: Yes – You need a device and plan that supports 5G as well as a compatible SIM card provisioned for 5G by your wireless carrier.
Q: How do I determine if I am connected to 5G or LTE?
A: On most modern phones, you can check your connection status for the network generation in the Settings app or via indicators/icons displayed in the status notification bar.
Q: Is 5G available near me?
A: 5G coverage maps that outline supported areas are available from major carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. However, smaller regional carrier information may be more limited.
Q: Does 5G use more battery than 4G?
A: Early 5G devices saw bigger battery drain but modem chipset optimizations on newer 5G phones have mostly closed this power efficiency gap with LTE.
Q: Can I use 5G on multiple devices simultaneously?
A: Yes – 5G supports connecting many devices concurrently. However your data speeds may be slower depending on how congested the cell site is from heavy traffic.
Q: What is 5G NR?
A: 5G New Radio refers to the global standard that defines the new OFDM-based radio interface technology used by devices and networks to enable the next generation of wireless broadband communications.
Q: What is dynamic spectrum sharing in 5G?
A: DSS allows carriers to dynamically allocate portions of frequency bands between 4G and 5G to maximize capacity and coverage while minimizing infrastructure changes required for 5G rollout.
Q: Does 5G use EPS core architecture?
A: No – 5G deployments utilize a new 5G Core which achieves lower latency compared to the Evolved Packet Core used in LTE networks. This enables the responsive, real-time capabilities of 5G.
Q: Can LTE Advanced Pro deliver speeds comparable to 5G?
A: LTE Advanced Pro can theoretically reach similar multi-gigabit speeds but lacks support for key 5G capabilities: ultra low-latency, massive sensor density and connection reliability.
Q: What is the SA mode in 5G?
A: Standalone mode uses an end-to-end core 5G network architecture. This brings the most significant benefits like lower latency rather than relying on any 4G network elements.
Q: Who are the major 5G infrastructure equipment vendors?
A: Key companies supplying 5G network equipment and systems include Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, Cisco, ZTE and several other players.