5G vs. 4G: Key similarities and differences
The demands on cell networks are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s estimated that by 2025, 18 billion devices will need a cellular network. That’s 10 billion more than there are humans on Earth. This demand is coming from cellular IoT, which can interface anything with a cellular network, from traffic lights to washing machines. Now that 5G is on the scene, will it be able to take on some of this demand? Here we explore the capabilities of 5G and how it is different from 4G.
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What is 4G?
4G stands for the 4th generation of cellular networks, and it was originally rolled out in 2009. 4G LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is still basically the same 4G as back in 2009, but with a lot of upgrades. 4G was the first network to support speeds comparable to Wi-Fi, allowing for mobile video and gaming streaming. Before that, 3G could only support text-based web use, such as email and maps.
A cellular network is basically a highly advanced radio system — which is why cell towers are such a common sight in cities. Coders work to cram in as much data as possible into the signals, but radio frequencies can only hold so much information. That’s why data compression has become a major focus in the era of 4G. One of the developments that allowed for that compression is 4G’s use of internet protocol (IP), meaning that anything done on the network uses internet technology rather than older mobile phone signals — even voice calls.
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What is 5G?
5G stands for 5th generation. It started its rollout in 2019, but the process of building out needed infrastructure and creating 5G-capable devices has slowed down adoption.
5G technology is rooted in the same network as 4G. It’s a development of what was already there. What makes the incredible speeds of 5G possible are a series of advancements in technology over the past few years. Two of those major breakthroughs are millimeter waves and beamforming.
In 4G and earlier generations, the frequencies available for transmitting were 6 Ghz or lower, but millimeter waves can transmit on a much higher spectrum — from 30-300 GHz. The current spectrum is so crowded that signals start to overlap with more users. These new frequencies open a lot of ground for expansion. The downside of millimeter waves is that their range is very small — around a mile in urban areas and up to 10 miles over flat terrain. So, to get that high-speed 5G, you’ll need to be less than a mile away from the nearest tower if you are in a city.
While it sounds like some cool kind of laser gun, beamforming is the ability of 5G towers to send directional signals to increase distance and minimize interference from other towers. This comes into play when considering how and where towers will be installed, topography, populations centers, and other geographical factors.
4G vs 5G: Similarities and differences
Starting 5G is not like turning on a light switch. Installing a massive system of towers, getting government permissions, and manufacturing the needed components involves a lot of logistics that will take years to fully roll out. Faced with these complications, you might find yourself faced with a choice between 4G and 5G for your cellular needs. But what exactly are the practical similarities and differences between these technologies[MB1]?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the similarities and differences between 5G and 4G.
- Based on the same internet protocol: While 5G can handle much more data, it uses the same standard internet protocols that were introduced by 4G. This means that as far as web usage, there are no major differences.
- Tower networks: Both 4G and 5G devices will need to be relatively near a transmission tower to work. Neither of them has the range of an older cellular signal, and you’d still likely have reception issues in remote locations.
- Radio spectrum: 4G and 5G utilize the same radio spectrum for their transmissions. Because of this, both types of networks will have the same issues associated with dropping signals — bad weather, concrete walls blocking reception, and the potential for interference from other devices and transmissions.
While there are similarities, the new technology of 5G does have some significant advantages and disadvantages.
- Limited Range: The millimeter waves that 5G uses cannot travel long distances, so 5G has to use transmission towers that cover much smaller areas. Because of the number of towers needed, many areas are still installing them.
- Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO): 5G can handle nearly ten times more traffic than 4G through any given tower due to more inputs and outputs.
- Full-Duplex: 5G cellular base stations are able to send and receive signals at nearly the same time — something 4G wasn’t able to do. This can drastically reduce latency.
Which is Faster: 4G or 5G?
While 5G is capable of much faster speeds than 4G, in practice, its speed depends on a number of factors. Things like service providers, location, and the capabilities of a given device all impact your ultimate internet speed. For example, in a series of tests done at the end of 2020, AT&T’s 4G speed was 37.1 megabits per second (Mbps), while their 5G speed went up to 75.6 Mbps. This may make 5G seem like a huge leap, but Verizon only jumped from 53.3 Mbps with 4G to 67.1 Mbps with 5G. Clearly, not all 5G is created equal.
The three types of 5G internet
Cellular providers know that just like the generations before, most customers don’t want a one-size-fits-all 5G network. Depending on your needs and budget, you might choose any one of the three current versions of 5G.
1. Low-band 5G
This is the slowest version of 5G and will likely cover nearly all areas of the country once fully rolled out. This type of 5G does not use the millimeter-wave technology, so it can run on the same radio frequencies that once carried TV broadcasts — beaming out from a tower for hundreds of square miles. However, this comes at the cost of speed. In general, low-band 5G is only about 20% faster than 4G LTE. While low-band did top out at 227 Mbps in testing, it averages closer to 35-40 Mbps. The upside to this is that even with these slower speeds comparable to 4G, low-band 5G has a better track record of getting the signal through walls and glass.
2. Mid-band 5G
Mid-band 5G does not quite make it past the 6 GHz mark, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “sub-6 Ghz.” It is still in the same frequency range as standard 4G networks but uses the other breakthroughs in 5G technology. Average speeds for mid-band come in at 125-200 Mbps — close to the top speeds of low-band. Mid-band also has a range of a few miles, much smaller than low-band, but larger than millimeter-wave.
3. Millimeter-wave 5G
This is where the speed of 5G really ramps up. Some have reached 3 gigabits per second (Gbps) in bursts, with the average coming in between 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps. But the downside of this technology is the lack of range. These signals currently only work within about a mile of a tower — so we’re much more likely to see this kind of technology in major urban areas. Currently, this technology is like a super-powerful Wi-Fi router.
Is 5G internet connectivity better than 4G?
Although low-band 5G can have similar speeds to 4G LTE, there are a number of other advantages to 5G.
5G offers reduced latency
In simplest terms, latency is the combined amount of time it takes to send a message and get a response. The shorter the latency, the faster the communication can happen. 5G reduces latency by reorganizing how the network moves data. For example, in 4G, the length of time allotted for transmission of data packets was set, but in 5G, it isn’t. This allows for the system to adjust as needed for peak efficiency.
5G is faster
Through millimeter waves and some of the other technology we’ve discussed, 5G offers speeds up to ten times that of 4G LTE. While this isn’t the case in all circumstances, even at its slowest, it is still on par with the top 4G systems.
5G has significantly more bandwidth
Going from 4G to 5G is like adding more lanes to a highway. The cars will go faster because they are less likely to get into a traffic jam. One major way 5G accomplishes this is through the use of millimeter waves by opening up larger portions of the spectrum for transmission. Also, full duplex transmitters allow for sending and receiving to take place all at once.
Is 5G internet readily available?
In early 2022, Verizon announced that it was bringing its wireless home internet option to 900 cities around the world with speeds of up to 1 Gbps. This would allow users to skip standard broadband internet services and plans and simply have access to wireless internet for about $50 a month. However, it is important to remember the restraints on 5G as well. At least for now, access to services like these will likely only be available in very limited areas in the heart of urban centers. The transmission distance for 5G at those speeds still sits at around a mile. Which means it may not be the right choice for many IoT devices in rural areas.
5Gs impact on today’s world
Although it’s still rolling out, 5G is already poised to make an impact on industries around the world.
1. 5G improves traffic with IoT capabilities
With its incredibly low latency, 5G is making the concept of self-driving vehicles a possibility. The fraction of a second reaction time needed for safe autonomous driving has been holding back this area of technology in recent years. 5G could also impact other aspects of city traffic management, ranging from traffic lights to rerouting self-driving cars around blockages.
Recommended Reading: Everything you need to know about IoT smart cities
2. 5G optimizes the gaming industry
The impact that such high speeds and bandwidth could have on gaming is significant. With 5G’s low latency, it is possible to have nearly real-time connections to the cloud, allowing gamers to stream in gameplay from remote hardware rather than have to invest in a powerful gaming PC. This method of processing on the cloud would also be true for smartphones, which could outsource their processing to remote servers, letting any player with a 5G phone play games with high-end PC-level graphics
3. 5G enhances production in the manufacturing industry
The high speeds and bandwidth of 5G also have major implications for the manufacturing industry. It is estimated that 5G could support up to 1 million devices per 0.38 miles, compared to around 2000 for 4G in that same area. This would allow every device in a smart factory to work in synchronization, self-monitoring production to avoid shutdowns and supply chain breakage.
Recommended reading: Smart factories: the role of IoT in the future of manufacturing
4. 5G increases crop yield in the agriculture industry
Given the number of devices a 5G network can handle, developments like precision farming become possible. Precision farming is when individual plants or small sections of crops are treated rather than entire fields. For example, if one side of a field got more sun and needed more water than the other side, a device that tracks soil moisture levels could monitor this to keep the plants at optimal levels. When it is developed further, this type of technology could be applied to everything from insect tracking to aerial drones targeting weeds with herbicide, helping to increase crop yield significantly.
Stay Connected with Hologram
5G is already changing the way we interact with technology, and it’s just getting started. The impact of lower latency and increased bandwidth are also continuing to blur the lines between a cellular network and traditional internet. With the opening up of the useable spectrum from 6 GHz to 300 GHz, there is a lot of room for growth in the coming years.
Regardless of the network, cellular IoT devices need reliable SIM cards that can adapt to the changing cellular landscape. Hologram’s IoT SIM card offers seamless, global coverage for IoT devices with access to LTE/4G/3G/2G technologies. With our Hyper eUICC-enabled SIMs, you’ll gain access to new connectivity partnerships without any additional carrier negotiations, integrations, or hardware swaps.