5G networks promise faster speeds and lower latency than previous cellular network generations. However, some users find their 4G LTE connections outperform their 5G networks. There are several factors that impact 5G versus LTE speeds.
What Influences Cellular Network Speed?
Many variables influence cellular network connections and data transfer speeds:
- Location – Distance from cell towers impacts signal strength and speed potential. Being too far reduces speeds.
- Network Traffic – More active users sharing a cell site reduces bandwidth availability.
- Spectrum Frequency – Low-band offers better coverage but slower speeds over long distances. Mid-band offers a balance. High-band mmWave offers fast speeds but over shorter distances with worse obstacle penetration. Networks utilize a combination of these frequency bands.
- Line of Sight – High frequency mmWave 5G signals struggle passing through buildings, trees and don’t refract as well to provide strong omni-directional signals. LTE’s lower frequencies travel farther and better penetrate obstacles.
- Device Compatibility – The device must support all the cellular bands utilized in the area to achieve the fastest speeds possible. Older devices may lack key 5G band support.
Many of these factors explain why users sometimes observe faster LTE than early rollout 5G.
Why is my LTE Faster than 5G?
There are a few key reasons why LTE may outperform 5G connections in certain use cases:
Limited 5G Availability
- 5G rollout is still nascent in many areas. Networks tend to debut in select urban areas then expand outskirts over time. Rural expansion takes even longer.
- With fewer 5G towers available, devices may latch onto LTE more often due to stronger signal availability.
Slower Sub-6GHz 5G Spectrum
- Networks are deploying both mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G early on.
- mmWave offers incredible peak bandwidth yet has range/penetration limitations.
- Sub-6GHz 5G offers better coverage yet lower peak speeds than mmWave. In some cases, Sub-6GHz 5G performance may be comparable to LTE.
Network Congestion & Prioritization
- Early 5G networks see high demand as users flock to experience new “5G” branded devices.
- Congested 5G towers may offer slower speeds than less congested LTE towers in some cases.
- Networks often prioritize LTE capacity and coverage over new 5G rollouts during early expansion.
Device & Infrastructure Limitations
- Early 5G devices lacked support for all available 5G spectrum bands.
- Without proper antenna and modem configurations, devices fail to take full advantage of 5G network speed potential.
- Similarly, nascent 5G infrastructure rollouts may lack equipment setup to support peak speeds enabled by the new technology.
As 5G matures over the coming years, network coverage, capacity, speeds and device compatibility will improve – closing the gap between 5G theoretical peak speeds and real-world performance. For now though, LTE may offer faster, more reliable connectivity in many instances – depending on your location, carrier, device and use case.
Tips for Faster Cellular Speeds
Here are some tips to help optimize cellular data speeds:
For Faster LTE Speeds:
- Ensure your device supports all utilized LTE frequency bands in your area. The most common LTE bands in the US are: 2, 4, 5, 13, 66. Newer phones tend to support the most bands.
- Toggle LTE mode to use “LTE Only” vs “LTE/5G Auto”. Auto may latch onto congested 5G more often.
- Try manual network selection to choose faster LTE bands available in your area.
- Move closer to exterior windows or outdoors to access stronger signals. Obstructions degrade LTE signals over distance.
For Faster 5G Speeds:
- Purchase recent flagship devices with full support for the frequency bands rolled out by your carrier.
- Choose locations outdoors or nearer to windows to improve mmWave reception. Avoid dense obstructions that weaken high-band signals.
- Disable LTE fallback and select “5G Only” mode so your device consistently latches onto 5G signals, even if weaker.
- Set preferred network type to NR Only to omit legacy networks and only connect to 5G.
- Try moving physically closer to 5G cell sites for stronger high-band reception.
As carriers continue deploying 5G, compatibility and real-world speeds should improve over time across more locations. But for now, sometimes good old LTE still reigns supreme.
- Early stage 5G rollouts focus on urban centers first, leaving many suburban and rural areas with limited or no 5G availability.
- mmWave 5G offers incredible peak speeds but struggles penetrating buildings and traveling far due to reliance on ultra high-band spectrum.
- Sub-6GHz 5G fixes mmWave’s shortcomings but offers speeds closer to LTE. When congested, LTE can outperform it.
- New 5G networks experience high demand early on. Congestion can make LTE faster than 5G during the transition period.
- Older smartphones lack support for key 5G bands required to take full advantage of the speed increases enabled by 5G networking hardware advances.
While 5G networks promise substantial performance improvements over older cellular network generations, real-world speeds rely upon many factors – location, network traffic levels, utilized frequency bands, line of sight to cell sites, hardware capabilities and more. Early growing pains deploying the latest networking standard can make 4G LTE a faster option than 5G in some instances – but providers continue enhancing their networks to unleash 5G’s full potential.
As infrastructure rollout expands over the coming years, 5G performance and availability will improve to support faster speeds across more areas globally – ultimately surpassing LTE. But for now, by understanding the key variables impacting cellular speeds, you can tweak connectivity settings to optimize performance based on your particular circumstances.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why is 5G slower than 4G in my area sometimes?
A: The early stages of 5G rollouts can experience growing pains – limited coverage, network congestion, and older hardware restrict speeds initially until infrastructure and devices mature.
Q: Is LTE faster than 5G for gaming?
A: In areas with congested or limited 5G availability, LTE may offer lower latency for real-time gaming needs. Multiplayer games require a stable, low latency connection.
Q: Should I disable 5G to save battery life?
A: Yes, disabling 5G can extend battery life if you consistently observe faster speeds via LTE connections in your usage area. The 5G antennas and modems consume more power searching for signals.
Q: Can buildings block 5G signals?
A: Yes, 5G mmWave signals cannot penetrate many construction materials effectively due to reliance on extremely high frequency radio waves between 30-300 GHz. Lower frequencies refract better.
Q: How far can 5G signals travel?
A: Low-band Sub-6GHz 5G signals can travel several miles. However, high-band mmWave 5G spans 0.25-0.6 miles typically before degrading. Line of sight also impacts signal propagation distance.
Q: Do trees reduce 5G signal strength?
A: Yes, trees can attenuate signals. Foliage impacts high frequency mmWave signals most severely given sensitivity to obstacles impeding line of sight requirements.
Q: Can weather impact 5G speeds?
A: Heavy rain, snow and fog scatter high frequency signals like mmWave 5G. However, Sub-6GHz 5G proves more reliable in poor weather relative to 4G even.
Q: Will upgrading to 5G provide faster hotspot speeds?
A: Not necessarily – factors like network congestion and cellular data plan throttling limits can restrict overall speeds. If LTE tests faster in your use case, a 5G phone may not boost hotspot performance.
Q: What cities offer the fastest 5G right now?
A: Early 5G leaders in the US include New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas and Chicago given extensive infrastructure rollout from Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T thus far in select zones.
Q: How do I check available 5G bands in my area?
A: Websites like Cell Mapper and Signal Check Pro offer crowd-sourced coverage maps documenting verified 5G band availability by location and carrier.
Q: Where is 5G rollout expanding next?
A: Carriers continue working towards nationwide coverage over the next 3 years. More suburban and rural regions typically follow initial urban expansions when installing new cellular infrastructure.
Q: What is the best carrier for fastest 5G speeds?
A: Carrier differences depend on your location given variations in regional network maturity. OpenSignal’s testing found T-Mobile fastest overall recently as their mid-band 5G coverage expands using Sprint spectrum.
Q: Will 6G make 5G obsolete?
A: No, 6G remains years away from commercialization as 5G continues enhancement. The incremental standards evolve together like past generational shifts from 3G to 4G and 4G to 5G alike.
Q: Do all new phones support 5G connectivity?
A: No, budget models lacking key modem components and antennas remain 4G LTE only. Certain regions also only sell 4G variants of particular models. Ensure 5G compatibility before purchase.
Q: Does 5G home internet require a phone plan?
A: No, companies like Verizon and T-Mobile offer dedicated 5G home internet requiring just a router and account creation without bundling other services.
Q: Can I get 5G using my current 4G SIM card?
A: Yes, modern SIM cards support provisioning multiple generational networks including 4G and 5G simultaneously. However, your device itself must support applicable 5G bands to connect properly.