How Does 5G Internet Work?

Everything you need to know about 5G internet

Chyelle Dvorak
Contributing Writer, VPNs
Read More
November 22, 2022
4 min read

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Chances are you’ve heard something about the 5G internet. There’s so much out there about it, but what is it actually?

5G stands for the fifth generation of the internet. It’s been around a couple years now, since 2018. Ever since the creation of 5G, large tech companies have really pushed for products that support the latest generation of internet. 5G promises to bring faster connection speeds and better internet overall.1

If you’re wondering what is 5G and how does it work? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll chat about the basics of 5G and help you understand what it really is and what it does.

What is 5G internet and how does it work?

What’s different about 5G compared to 4G internet is how it works. The internet works by using radio frequencies. 4G internet uses frequencies that are typically under 6 GHz, while 5G uses a frequency that’s as high as 30 GHz.

The higher frequency makes 5G faster, more reliable, and it works with less latency (the delay between a request and the action being performed). The goal of 5G is to make your connection on your phone so incredibly fast, it’s almost like you're connected to the internet at home. 5G can also be connected to more devices than 4G LTE networks.

When it comes to response time, 5G can download files 2x faster than 4G can. Most 4G signals travel at 20 to 160 MHz (megahertz). 5G signals, on the other hand, can range from 100 to 800 MHz. This allows the signal to be stronger, plus high frequencies travel faster, giving 5G much higher speeds than 4G.

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Essentially, 5G technology is designed to transfer data more efficiently than ever. Think of it like adding lanes to a freeway. You’re helping more cars travel at once. It’s the same here—with this improved bandwidth data can travel much quicker.

Do I need 5G internet?

If you have a ton of tech in your home, you’re constantly hosting meetings, and you already experience slow connection with 4G, then you might want to upgrade. However, most people can function fine on 4G connection and the upgrade isn’t necessary. It’s really up to you.

As more and more devices come out with 5G, it’s bound to become the norm. Pretty soon, tech companies will stop making devices that support 4G altogether. As so many people are still working from home, technology continues to grow at exponential rates.

That being said, even though 5G has been around a couple years, 4G isn’t going anywhere. Plenty of cities and devices still operate using 4G.

What can 5G do?

Dream big with us for a second.

Imagine self-driving cars that communicate with one another seamlessly, robotic surgeries controlled remotely by expert surgeons in a different country, photorealistic VR experiences from the comfort of your home—this will all be possible with 5G technology in the future. How cool is that? But first, let’s take a step back at what 5G can do for us today.

5G promises to bring faster connection speeds and better internet. With 5G, you’ll get an immersive, crisp picture when you watch a football game. AT&T says you’ll feel like you’re in the stadium or arena. If we can’t afford two Super Bowl tickets at $12,000 total (gasp), then we guess this is the next best option.

Your daily Zoom calls will have less lag and are less likely to freeze your face in the middle of an important meeting. If you can’t go to a concert, 5G makes it possible to give you a live 3D augmented reality experience. Doctors can also collect data rapidly to make quicker decisions for patients because of the speedy 5G network.

And we’re just scratching the surface here.

To get all of this amazingness, you’ll need a 5G-enabled device to access 5G. For example, most of the latest smartphones—like the iPhone 12–13 and Samsung Galaxy S21—are compatible with the ultrafast 5G network.

You can also get 5G with newer laptop models, home devices, and other new gadgets.

Is 5G just for my phone?

No, 5G isn’t just for your phone. While phones were the first devices to start using 5G, there are many other products that use it now. New laptops, home devices, and other new gadgets that have the ability to connect to the network. One new example is the Lenovo Flex, a business laptop that runs on 5G. If you’re curious, you can just check your device and see what yours says.

Can you use a 5G phone without 5G coverage?

Yes. You can use a 5G-compatible phone without having access to a 5G network. Your 5G-compatible device will just connect to a 4G network if it can’t find a 5G network. Your speeds won’t be as fast while connected to a 4G network, but your 5G phone can still stream YouTube and TikTok videos.

How can I get 5G internet?

So far, T-Mobile/Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon are the only mobile networks that offer nationwide 5G coverage.

These providers offer 5G in at least 85% of the US (but that will most likely increase in the near future). Find out if 5G is available near you with these 5G availability maps:

How soon will 5G be widely available?

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How can I use 5G?

You’ll need a 5G device before you can start using a 5G connection. Just like providers racing to support a 5G network, phone makers like Apple, Samsung, and Android want to get their devices ahead of the curve.

Before you buy a new 5G smartphone, we recommend that you double-check with your provider if you’re in an area that supports 5G. As of now, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all provide 5G internet connections.

If you have a 5G-compatible phone, and live in an area with 5G coverage from your carrier, your phone will automatically connect to the 5G network.

5G FAQs

Want to know more about 5G internet or using VPNs? We've got you covered.

What are the disadvantages of 5G network?

There's no doubt that faster speeds, reduced latency, and increased bandwidth are major pluses for 5G network, but what are the drawbacks? The biggest hurdle when it comes to 5G really comes down to access. Industry trade group GSMA believes just half of cellular connections will be 5G by 2025.1 

Is 5G better than Wifi?

The simple answer? It depends. The speed and performance of both wifi and 5G are impacted by how many users are on the network as well as proximity to the network's base station. For 5G, this means how many bars you have can influence performance and speed.4 And for wifi, its performance can be impacted by how many of your family members are online or the number of neighbors using the same network.

Because of its capacity to serve more users most efficiently at a lower cost, wifi will probably continue to be the go-to choice for home and business services; however, 5G's longer range and increased speeds indicate there's a good chance 5G will become the favored network for mobile devices and smart technology.4

Additional reading

Sources

  1. Clare Duffy CNN, “What Is 5G? Your Questions Answered," March 6, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2021.
  2. Thales Group, “5G Versus 4G, What’s the Difference?” August 8, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2021.
  3. William Goddard, “Where Is 5G Available?” November 12, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2021.
  4. Intel Technologies, "5G vs. Wi-Fi 6: A Powerful Combination for Wireless" March 16, 2020. Accessed February 24, 2022.
Chyelle Dvorak
Written by
Chyelle Dvorak
Chyelle works as a freelance writer for The Daily Beast and edited articles for Forbes, Inc.com, Fox News and other review sites. Chyelle tests, writes, and researches products and services related to internet consumption. She found her passion for public speaking and writing in her childhood when she won the Voice of Democracy speech and essay competition. Chyelle has a degree in International Relations from Crown College, Minnesota. Outside of work, Chyelle loves to spend time reading, kayaking, and running.

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