5G vs 4G: Is 5G better than 4G?

Whenever a new cellular technology is introduced, people wonder whether or not to upgrade. One of the key questions in everyone’s mind is usually around the benefits of the new technology over the earlier one. Mobile operators generally price the new technology a bit higher than the earlier one by charging premium rates for the new tariff. The device prices, e.g. phones and routers, are also initially higher for the new technology because the development costs for the required hardware are higher. That is currently the case with the 5G technology and associated tariffs and devices. This post aims to answer some of the fundamental questions around the differences between 4G and 5G and the benefits of one over the other.

How is 4G different from 5G?

The fourth-generation mobile networks, commonly known as 4G, are enabled by a technology called Long Term Evolution (LTE), initially launched in 2009. Generally, a new generation of mobile networks is launched every ten years. The latest generation of mobile networks, 5G – fifth generation, was introduced in most parts of the world in 2019 and 2020 through a technology New Radio – NR. 5G is conceptually different from all earlier technologies because the specifications for 5G have very focused use case categories. Within each use case category, capabilities have been specified that address the needs of that category. While LTE mainly was a straightforward technology with its key aim to offer higher data speeds and lower latencies than 3G, 5G is a lot more than just high-speed data and lower latencies. 5G targets the consumer and business customers just like 4G; however, the 5G use cases for enterprises go beyond essential communication services. 5G aims to offer ultra-low latencies below one millisecond for real-time communication and IoT use cases, especially for the large enterprise sector such as manufacturing industries.

Is 5G faster than 4G?

The key comparison metrics for 4G and 5G are the download and upload speeds, latencies and the support for the number of devices per square kilometre. The latest enhancements of 4G LTE, under the umbrella of LTE-Advanced Pro, can offer peak download speeds of around 3 Gbps, whereas 5G can provide peak download speeds of about 10 Gbps. The average indoor download speed for LTE-Advanced Pro (in the UK) at the time of writing is around 65-80 Mbps, whereas the same for 5G is about 150 Mbps. Higher speeds are possible in an outdoor set-up.

What’s the advantage of 5G over 4G?

5G is a highly flexible technology that follows a service-based architecture using the power of network virtualisation. In simple terms, that means 5G deployment can be customised to the intended customer use cases. 5G benefits from a capability called network slicing, which allows it to create multiple virtual networks within a single physical network. For example, a mobile operator can create one network slice for self-driving cars within a city and another slice to offer high-speed broadband to consumers. 5G is organised into three use case categories, including Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communication (uRLLC) and massive machine type communication (mMTC). In terms of mobile broadband, 5G can offer peak download speeds of up to 10 Gbps which is considerably higher than the 3 Gbps of peak download speed LTE-Advanced Pro can offer. Furthermore, 5G can deliver highly reliable communication (99.99% availability) with extremely low latencies (below one millisecond). Finally, 5G can support billions of low-powered devices to support use cases for smart cities. It can support 1 million devices per square kilometre which is something that 4G is not able to support. The flexibility of 5G distinguishes it from 4G LTE; however, 4G and 5G will work together, especially for consumer use cases such as high-speed broadband.

Do I really need 5G?

If you are a consumer who wants to use their mobile phone for video streaming and essential communication services, then LTE-Advanced Pro is highly capable of delivering for your needs. Interestingly, the way 5G is deployed makes use of the existing LTE network to address high-speed internet type use cases. If you want to use mobile broadband for your home internet, then 5G is better placed to offer you high-speed data than 4G. If you are a business customer looking at smart city and ultra-reliable IoT connectivity type cases, 5G can be a critical strategic consideration.

Conclusion

5G is the latest generation of mobile networks and evolution of the 4G LTE networks. Powered by a technology New Radio – NR, 5G offers higher data speeds and lower latencies than the 4G LTE networks. It supports more devices per square kilometre than 4G LTE and enables use cases like enhanced mobile broadband, self-driving cars, smart cities, and AR/VR services. 5G can offer average download speeds of around 150 Mbps in the UK, while 4G LTE networks, in comparison, can enable 65-80 Mbps.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support especially when preparing for a new job, or studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy which explains the network nodes e.g. BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on product overview and product roadmap.

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