5G vs 4G: are we about to see a comms revolution?

The roll-out of 5G promises to be a game changer for how we communicate. It could also spark a new approach to phone, TV and broadband packages. Let’s take a look…

The roll-out of 5G promises to be a game changer for how we communicate. It could also spark a new approach to phone, TV and broadband packages. Let’s take a look…

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
7 JANUARY 2020
6 min read
Share article

Introduction of 5G

The introduction of 5G technology will change the way wireless devices connect to the internet, with super-fast speeds revolutionising online communications.

5G will deliver movie downloads in under four seconds and improved connectivity in crowds at festivals and other mass events held at stadiums. It’s also expected that so-called ‘smart’ homes, where devices such as fridges and alarms are connected to the internet, may have potential to function more effectively.

To take advantage of fast downloads and connectivity, you’ll need to upgrade your handset. 5G compatible phones can already be pre-ordered from EE and Vodafone, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Samsung Galaxy Fold.

So, what exactly is 5G?

5G is the latest generation of mobile communication. The wireless system could replace phone lines and cables and has the potential to completely transform the internet.

Most of us have heard of 4G, 3G and 2G. The ‘G’ stands for generation, and each generation of technology has improved the connectivity of mobile phone networks. So let’s look at how things have developed over the years.

The first generation arrived in 1979, allowing us to talk to each other over mobile phones. Then came 2G, which enabled us to send and receive messages. 3G facilitated the use of the internet and data, and 4G made everything faster.

What makes 5G so revolutionary is that it’s not just going to be a little bit faster, it’s going to be at least 100-250 times faster than the current 4G network.

What does that mean in real life? Well, if you downloaded a two-hour movie using 3G, it could take up to 26 hours. The same movie would take about six mins on 4G. However, using 5G, it could download in just under four seconds.

What are the benefits of 5G?

  • Bigger internet capacity

One of the biggest benefits of 5G is that it will have 10 times more internet capacity than 4G. This is something that can largely solve signal issues in crowded areas like stadiums and festivals. When lots of people try to connect to a network at the same time, it can overload the network and crash the connectivity. This can make it difficult to send messages, upload videos to social media and livestream the show. However, 5G will allow more people online at the same time.

  • Increased connectivity

This breakthrough in technology is also going to change the way that wireless devices are connected to the internet. 5G will be as fast as 10 gigabits per second over wireless connection, while 4G operates at a maximum 100 megabits per second. In plain language, that means 5G is 100 times quicker.

EE, the UK’s largest phone network, has already started rolling out 5G and aims to have the first 5G connected festival at Glastonbury 2019 – using an estimated 70 terabytes of data (in other words, a heck of a lot).

  • Personalisation

With 5G you’ll be able to personalise your network capacity based on how much you need to use. For example, gamers using virtual reality (VR) will require more capacity than someone who mainly just surfs the web, and how much they spend will vary accordingly. This is because rather than using cables, as we still do, it will operate using the cloud – it will all be wireless.

This is particularly beneficial to big businesses, where organisers know they’ll see an influx of people needing to connect to the internet. Event organisers will be able to pay for an increase in the local network’s capacity as a one-off so that more people can use the internet during their time at the event.

  • Faster response times

As the world becomes ever more reliant on the internet, a reduction in time delay is crucial.

5G promises that the response rate to our commands will be much faster, with latency rates of a millisecond, responding almost in real-time. As the presence of artificial intelligence increases, this is key for the development of, for example, driverless cars. 5G will allow the cars to communicate at a much faster rate.

Minimum delay will mean live streaming could be combined with VR and augmented reality for immersive, multiplayer gaming in real time.

5G could mean a surgeon wouldn’t need to be in the same room as a patient in future, using a VR headset and special gloves to perform the operation in a remote location.

  • Swappable benefits

EE have announced that as well as 5G speeds, pay monthly customers will be able to swap a variety of benefits at any given time, including free access to BT Sport, the ability to stream Apple Music, Tidal, Prime Video, Netflix and MTV without eating into your monthly data allowance.

What are the drawbacks of 5G?

Although 5G will be faster than we’ve ever seen, it also comes with its own shortfalls – its signal can’t travel very far. For the connection to be so quick, it uses higher frequencies and bandwidth to enable its users to transfer wireless data faster.

So what does this mean? A 4G network can send a signal up to 10km and barely lose connectivity. However, using 5G the connection the signal can cut out at about 300m.

As 5G doesn’t travel well because of its frequency, short signal distance means building more transmitters. So instead of using big towers as we do now to broadcast frequencies over a long distance, it could lead to there being a transmitter every few hundred meters.

5G also doesn’t travel well through solid objects, again limiting its practical use in some instances.

Given the speeds of 5G, you could also burn through data more quickly and larger data packages start at quite high price points. EE offer a range of pay monthly packages - customers can pay £54 per month for 10GB of data.

Compare broadband providers

Get deals in minutes and find out how much you could save.

Find and compare deals