How Does 5G Internet Work?

Easton Smith
Feb 15, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read

5G is the newest form of network technology that lets you wirelessly connect to the internet. It’s kind of like a huge Wi-Fi network that you can plug into for super fast internet speeds.

While 5G started as a technology for cell phones, companies like Verizon and T-Mobile are using it to provide high speed internet directly to people’s homes.

We’ll go over everything you need to know about 5G internet here—from data speeds, cost, and availability—so read on (or just skip to the section you want to read about using the headings above).

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The technology behind 5G internet

5G actually stands for fifth generation. It comes after the fourth generation of mobile technology that most people are familiar with (if you’ve ever seen the 4G or LTE icon next to the signal bar on your phone, you’ve used a 4G network).

Like 4G before it, 5G uses radio frequencies to transmit data from cell phone towers to connected devices. The difference is that 5G uses higher radio frequencies that can carry more information much faster. These higher frequencies or bands are sometimes called “millimeter waves” (mmwaves).

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Can 5G replace home internet?

Yes! There are a couple of great 5G home internet options already on the market, and more are sure to come. It’s not available everywhere, but where high-speed 5G internet networks exist, it’s a good option for both cell phone and home internet.

If you live in a big city, you may have noticed new cell phone towers going up around major intersections. That’s because 5G networks require a high density of towers to provide the super-high band service.

How fast is 5G internet?

5G internet has speeds of about 50 Mbps up to 10Gbps (or 10,000 Mbps!). That’s a huge range because there are actually a bunch of different factors that go into determining 5G internet speeds.

First of all, there are two kinds of 5G. Many cell phone companies have rolled out a slower, less fancy version of 5G (some dub this “nationwide 5G”). It’s basically a glorified version of 4G LTE networks. With this kind of 5G, your speeds likely won’t top 100 Mbps, but it is widely available throughout North America.

The other kind of 5G is often called wide-band or millimeter wave because it actually utilizes the full potential of those higher frequencies we talked about earlier. With this kind of 5G you’ll get speeds of 100-500+ Mbps, which is very fast (probably faster than whatever home internet you have now). However, it’s less widely available than “nationwide 5G.”

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How much internet speed do you really need?

What’s the big difference between 50 Mbps and 500 Mbps internet speeds? You can learn more about internet speeds and figure out how much bandwidth you actually need on our handy info page. You can also test your current data speeds with our online speedometer.

Another factor that will determine your 5G speeds is the company that’s providing them. While T-Mobile has the fastest cellular data speeds, it’s actually Verizon that seems to offer the fastest 5G home internet. Here’s a quick comparison of the speeds of these two 5G home internet services.

5G home internet comparison

5G internet service
Speed range
Learn more
VerizonUp to 300 Mbps
T-Mobile72-245 Mbps

Other factors that can determine your 5G speeds include signal obstructions, like trees and other barriers, and your distance from the tower. In short, 5G internet is more like a cell phone signal than a wired internet connection: it will change depending on your location. 

How much does 5G internet cost?

If you want to get 5G internet on your phone or with a mobile hotspot device, there are plenty of cell phone plan options that range from about $30-85. But the most reliable way to get 5G in one location is with a 5G home internet plan from T-Mobile or Verizon.

Check out this price breakdown of these two 5G ISPs.

5G home internet comparison
5G internet service
Price
Learn more
Verizon$50/mo.*
T-Mobile$60/mo.
* w/ Auto Pay. Available in select areas.
w/ Auto Pay. Regulatory fees included in monthly price for qualified accounts. See full terms.

5G home internet requires an indoor and/or outdoor receiver and a modem to work. Verizon and T-Mobile both provide this equipment for free when you sign up for the service.

Prices for 5G internet will hopefully go down over time, even as the technology becomes more widespread and efficient.

Do you need 5G internet?

Most people are still not using 5G internet, and that’s okay. While new flagship cell phones are able to connect to 5G networks, and most new cell phone plans include 5G service, it’s still relatively small in terms of network coverage.

For most folks, 4G and LTE cell phone coverage offers sufficient speed for streaming videos on TikTok, scrolling through Instagram, and even playing a few games of PUBG: Mobile.

But, if you’re looking for a good way to get home internet that doesn’t require a wired connection, then 5G is probably your best bet (we like it more than most satellite internet options). You can get superior speeds, more reliability, and your network will be future proof (and likely to improve in the coming years).

5G FAQs

Got questions about 5G internet? We’ve got you covered.

What are the disadvantages of 5G network?

While there was some chatter when 5G first came out about how it would affect people’s health, it seems those fears were unfounded. So, the only real downside is that 5G requires so many cell phone towers and they can look a little bit clunky going up all around town.

In terms of performance, there really aren’t any downsides to using 5G. It’s just a faster, more efficient cell phone network that can even replace your home internet.

Is 5G better than Wifi?

Kind of, but it’s not that straightforward. 5G internet and Wi-Fi networks are not mutually exclusive. For instance, you can have a 5G home internet connection in your house and set up a Wi-Fi network so that you can access that connection with your home devices, like smart TVs, computers, and tablets.

But it is true that devices like phones can connect directly to a 5G network without using a Wi-Fi device, and it has a much larger range than a Wi-Fi router. So, from that perspective 5G is better than Wi-Fi.

How will 5G affect me?

If you don’t want to use a 5G cell phone or get 5G home internet, then it likely won’t affect you at all. However, in the future cell phone companies might phase out 3G and 4G cell phone service, in which case most people will probably need to use 5G if they want to use a cell phone.

Is 5G better than LTE?

In short, yes. LTE cell phone networks are still using the 4G technology, while 5G networks use a more advanced, high-band technology. Simply put, 5G is faster than LTE.

However, phone companies still have LTE service in many more areas than they have 5G, so from a coverage perspective LTE is better.

Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith
Easton has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for several years, reviewing health, lifestyle, and technology products. He has probably read more Terms of Use contracts than any human alive. When he’s not sitting in front of a computer, Easton spends his time camping, climbing, and volunteering with humanitarian aid organizations.

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