5G - definition


5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone communications standards. It is a successor to 4G and promises to be faster than previous generations while opening up new uses cases for mobile data.

The top-performing 4G, LTE networks can deliver peak download speeds of 300Mbit/s. In comparison, 5G estimates range from 1Gb/s - 10Gb/s.

For context, that will allow a 1080p HD movie to be downloaded to your smartphone in 10-40 seconds.

5G benefits from much lower latency, resulting in very little delay. This low latency will be critical for applications such as self-driving cars. A typical 4G network has a 45ms latency compared to 5G's theoretical 1ms.

A 5G network will also have greater capacity and will better cope with high demand.

5G uses new higher radio frequencies because they are less cluttered and can carry information much faster.

However, higher frequencies don't travel as far. 5G is enabled by having a larger number of smaller multiple input and output (MIMO) antennas closer together.

Operators are able to configure a single physical network in multiple virtual networks 'slices'. These 'slices' can be allocated accordingly and therefore manage the network better and delivering the appropriate resources dependent on the application.

If you've checked our 5G primer, you already know that 5G is not just a single type of network.

"Sub-6" is what you call any 5G using the bands sitting below 6GHz. In contrast, "mmWave" or 'Wide Band' uses the bands in the 26-28GHz range.

Lower band 5G allows for more coverage per tower, while higher band 5G comes with smaller coverage but faster possible speeds. That's why to fully envelope a city a carrier needs an order of magnitude more towers for mmWave than if it was using something between 3-6GHz. 5G mmWave also has a much higher signal attenuation (dropping) when passing through obstacles such as walls and windows.

While the network speeds attainable on mmWave 5G are probably the technology's poster child, most carriers worldwide have chosen to start developing their networks in the sub-6GHz range. And when we say 'most,' we mean practically everybody else but Verizon.

Phones supporting mmWave also need to fit more radio antennae so their internal design is more challenging. With the current state of things, making mmWave compatible phones means you are making them for Verizon only.

Check out our 5G deep dive here. We also test Verizon's mmWave network here.

You can find all 5G-enabled smartphones here.