What Is 5G?

5G is the newest generation of cell phone internet technology. 5G will increase internet speeds dramatically and max out at download speeds of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps).

That’s about 100 times faster than 4G (100 Mbps max), which is the network you’re likely using now. Such wireless technology. Much wow.

Info Box icon
How fast is 100 gigabits per second?
Typical 4G speeds range around 10–20 Mbps, which is enough to stream an HD movie on Netflix. With 5G, you can stream 400 Netflix movies at a time in 4K. (Finally, you can use those 400 TVs you have laying around.)

When you have data transferring that quickly, some wild technological advances begin to feel possible. From self-driving cars to robots performing surgery, to virtual reality experiences with no latency. Feel free to have an existential crisis right along with me.

How does 5G work?

Big cellular networks like Verizon and AT&T have invested billions of dollars in the rollout of 5G networks. Like other cellular networks, 5G networks use cell sites that send encoded data through radio waves.

The difference is that this new type of encoding—called orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing, or OFDM for short—allows for much lower latency, reduced signal interference, and improved frequency flexibility.

See, most 4G signals travel at frequencies from 20 to 160 MHz (megahertz). 5G signals, on the other hand, can range from 100 to 800 MHz. This gives the signal greater flexibility, plus high frequencies travel faster, giving 5G much higher speeds than 4G.

Megaphone icon
Have I lost you yet?
Essentially, the new system 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: data can travel much quicker with this improved bandwidth.

What can 5G do?

Any device that uses wireless technology can benefit from a 5G connection.

Dream big for a second with me. 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. The sky is quite literally the limit with 5G technology.

How excited are you to take a road trip with some driverless cars? Instead of driving, you could sleep, play some virtual reality games, or just mess around with your devices. It’ll feel like you got to the beach in no time.

Heads Up icon
Okay, but is 5G technology dangerous?
Some worry that 5G frequencies may cause harm and bring about scary diseases like cancer, but thankfully, those fears are unwarranted. (Time will tell if fear of a robot uprising is warranted, though.)

How soon will 5G be widely available?

Providers are slowly rolling out 5G around the country. Needless to say, every provider is anxious to be the first to establish faster speeds with a 5G connection. So far, providers like AT&T and Verizon are essentially beta testing in select cities. Enjoy those fast data speeds, folks.

One of the holdups is that every city receiving 5G needs to build new cell towers capable of transmitting signals at faster speeds. And those cell towers need to be in closer proximity to your location to facilitate higher frequencies.

It’s like having an electric car—it runs more efficiently than other cars, but you need to live closer to a charging station than you would otherwise.

At this point, it feels safe to assume that 5G will be widely available by the end of 2020.

How can I use 5G?

You’ll need a 5G phone 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.

Light Bulb icon
Out with the old, in with the new
Before you go out and buy a fancy new 5G phone, you should know that it won’t work on older networks. For example, if you have only a 3G network or a 600MHz frequency in your area, your 5G phone won’t work.

Samsung recently got the edge and launched the Galaxy S10 5G. It’s the first phone that can tap into those wild internet speeds. The only catch is that you need to live in one of the few select cities that actually offer 5G . . . and if you want an unlocked phone, those aren’t available yet.

Surely iPhone and Android will announce their new 5G devices as soon as they can.

Excited about 5G? Here are some more resources to get you ready.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

Still looking? Check out the top cell phone plans.

COMPARE PHONE PLANS

Want unlimited data? These unlimited plans offer the most bang for your buck.

COMPARE UNLIMITED PHONE PLANS