Can 5G offer high speed internet services?

Since the beginning of the year 2020, many of us have been working from home and, as a result, relying more on our home broadband than we ever did before. Home broadband services have always been an essential part of our monthly budget; however, the service never really got tested in the way it did in the 2020 lockdown. The digital world we currently live in has many options for connecting us to the internet, including DSL, Fiber Optics, mobile phones, and even satellite broadband services. The proof, however, as they say, is in the pudding, pudding being the consistency of the service. In a competitive market like the UK, where almost every internet provider is a self-proclaimed leader when it comes to service reliability, the reality of the overall internet experience can be inconsistent at times. Over the last year or so, many of us may have encountered issues with the regular broadband services and ended up using our mobile phones as WiFi hotspots to continue working.

What is 5G high speed internet?

Mobile internet technology has come quite far. As you may know, it all started with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) as part of the second generation (2G) of mobile networks, when a speed of a few kilobits per second was good enough to get us excited. At that time, a more reliable option was cable internet or a dial-up connection through fixed telephone lines. But then came 3G, which marked the beginning of high-speed internet services through cellular networks by introducing HSDPA and HSUPA technologies. With HSDPA/HSUPA, on average, you are likely to get 5-15 Mbps which is decent enough for general browsing and even watching online videos. But the real game-changer came in the form of 4G LTE networks. With 4G LTE, the mobile internet became very comparable with fibre-based home broadband services. Have a look at this post, where we captured the average 4G LTE download and upload speeds. Now that we are in 2021, the fifth generation of mobile networks 5G is already live, which is a completely different league as compared to all earlier cellular technologies. While the theoretical speeds are in 10s of Gbps, the average download speeds of over 100 Mbps are not really that big a challenge for 5G networks. 5G is achieved through a technology called New Radio (NR) which is expected to work alongside the advanced version of LTE networks for a very long time. It is great news for consumers and businesses because together, 5G and 4G can offer internet speeds that are well above the average broadband speeds for UK households. Have a look at this link to check out the average broadband speeds in the UK.

How fast is 5G Internet in Mbps?

The current 5G networks are comfortably capable of offering download speeds of around 150 Mbps or higher on average. The average upload speeds are also in the multiples of 10 Mbps usually around 30-50 Mbps. In Reading, Berkshire where I live, I can safely say that the 5G speeds I have been getting over the last 2 months of using a 5G router have been consistently higher than the average UK fixed broadband speeds. Having said that, I must confess that there have been occasions when I had to endure 15-20 Mbps in download speeds also on the very same 5G network but that at the time of writing (April 2021) is a rare occurrence.

There are some factors that may reduce these speeds, but let’s first have a look at some speed test results so you can visualise what 5G connection can help you achieve. Even though I won’t be disclosing which 5G mobile network and router I am using, but it is worth mentioning that my mobile operator told me that I shouldn’t expect indoor 5G coverage. Still, I have been able to witness 5G coverage indoors and speeds like the following are very encouraging indeed.

5G speeds - cellular connection using WiFi
Speed test when connected to a 5G router via Ethernet cable in Reading, UK – April 2021
Speed test when connected to a 5G router via Ethernet cable in Reading, UK – April 2021

The factors that may impact your 5G speeds negatively are simple. First, you need to make sure that you actually have a 5G network base station close by. The best way to do that is to check the coverage maps of mobile operators to see who is providing 5G coverage in your area. You also need to find a future-proof router compliant with at least 3GPP release 15 (which introduces 5G NR). Have a look at this post to get information on what the different 3GPP release can do for you in terms of 5G, so you don’t end up paying a lot of money for a router that does not fulfil your needs. The other aspect is the WiFi technology also; you want to make sure that the router offers at least decent 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels as part of WiFi5 and ideally the 6GHz band for WiFi6 also. To be very clear, the 5GHz in WiFi has absolutely no relationship with the 5G cellular networks but for some reason this terminology mix-up keeps causing confusion in the mobile and WiFi worlds. In fact, I got a question a few weeks ago from a friend in Pakistan who asked if 5G was already “outdated” as he had heard rumours about the introduction of ‘6G’ already. After doing a bit of quick research around this ‘rumour’ my conclusion was that someone was mixing up WiFi6 and the associated 6GHz frequency band with 6G. The sixth generation of mobile networks (6G) is possibly more of a 2030ish thing considering we haven’t even achieved 5G coverage yet. It is important to mention that the 5G today is not an end-to-end 5G network either as currently mobile operators are using a combination of 4G and 5G to offer non-standalone 5G services. The next step from there is the standalone 5G which is end-to-end 5G which you can find more about in this dedicated post.

Can 5G replace home internet?

If you were to seriously consider 5G cellular broadband as an option for your home broadband, there are some questions that you must answer to know for sure. As far as the technology goes, there is no doubt that 5G mobile broadband can offer speeds that can address the internet needs of most households around the world. If you are someone who checks their broadband speed regularly, then you may already be familiar with the website speedtest.net. They have a global index page that shows the fixed and mobile broadband speeds from around the world on a monthly basis. You can find this page directly by clicking this link. In order to do a fair comparison between 5G (mobile broadband) and the regular home broadband (fixed), let’s focus on the broadband speeds you get with fixed networks in the United Kingdom. Using the following set-up, in Reading UK, I can get the speeds specified in the earlier section, which for someone like me is way better than fixed broadband alternatives. Even 4G LTE networks, as explained in an earlier post, can offer average download and upload speeds of around 40-80 Mbps which may be sufficient for most use cases.

Home 5G broadband set-up

It is however important to be mindful of the potential challenges the current mobile networks face today. A cellular network is a shared resource, and since it is designed for people on the move, hence the word ‘mobile’, any unplanned influx of new users in your area can negatively impact your speed. The word ‘unplanned’ is of significance here because mobile operators are usually good with ‘planned’ activities that may impact their network capacity (bandwidth). For example, suppose you live close to a train station which is usually crowded during rush hours. In that case, your mobile operator would (or should) know that they need to offer higher capacity during those hours to minimise any negative impact that a sudden increase in the number of mobile users can have on your network quality. Generally, a mobile network cannot guarantee the network capacity available to individual users or households. But, 5G networks have something called ‘Network Slicing’ that allows an operator to allocate the right level of network resources for specific use cases to help with this challenge. In simple terms, that means your mobile operator can make sure that the right services are prioritised by allocating certain bandwidths for certain services. Look at this post if you need some help to clearly understand the relationship between bandwidth and your network speed and ping.

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