After over a decade, a new mobile communication standard has arrived, and is all set to usher in a new era of digital connectivity. 5G is the buzzword everywhere and countries all around the world are deploying 5G as quickly as possible. India, being the latest one to auction the 5G spectrums, the telecom operators are ready to launch their 5G services which include Airtel 5G, Jio 5G, and Vi 5G. In the US, 5G is already live with telcos like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon offering their 5G services. In case, you are still unaware of 5G, you can learn about all the developments from this explainer. On that note, let’s go ahead and learn what is 5G and what are the benefits over 4G.
5G Explained: All You Need to Know (2022)
Here, we have explained everything about 5G including the new frequency bands, its practical speed, SA and NSA modes in 5G, benefits of 5G over 4G, and more. You can expand the table below and move to any section you want.
What is 5G?
5G, as the name suggests, is a 5th-generation cellular network standard, a successor to 4G-LTE. In technical terms, 5G corresponds to a set of technical specifications which is defined by 3GPP — an industry consortium that develops standards for mobile communication. Similar to how 4G brought better speed, latency, and wider capabilities over 3G, 5G ushers a new era of ultra-speed gigabit network where devices ranging from IoT to large machines — all can leverage its sheer power.
In 2017, 3GPP approved the first 5G specifications known as Release 15. It estimated 5G peak speeds ranging from 10 to 20Gbps. In comparison, the theoretical peak speed of 4G is 1Gbps. So 5G offers multi-fold improvements over 4G-LTE. The reason 5G is able to deliver such a high-speed network is that finally, higher frequency bands (called NR — New Radio) have been opened up for public and commercial usage.
4G’s operational frequency band was limited to 600MHz to 2.4GHz. And now with 5G, the spectrum operates between 600MHz to 52GHz which brings a massive difference. Due to higher frequency bands, 5G can deliver a much higher throughput and sub-10ms latency. To learn more about different types of 5G frequency bands, move to the next section.
5G Frequency Bands
5G frequency bands have been divided into two broad categories: sub-6GHz and mmWave. The sub-6GHz spectrum has been divided further into two segments: low-band and mid-band. Here, low-band refers to the frequency range between 600MHz to 2.4GHz, similar to 4G’s operational frequency band. Things get exciting as we move to the mid-band. It operates between 3GHz to 6GHz, hence, the name sub-6GHz and it offers much better speeds than 4G, with a peak download speed of 1Gbps.
Moving higher on the frequency ladder, the mmWave spectrum operates between 24GHz to 52GHz. This is an elite-tier frequency band that can deliver speeds up to 10-20Gbps. Having said that, as we know in telecommunication, the higher the frequency, the faster the speed. But with higher frequency, the penetration of radio signal drops significantly so the mmWave frequency band can only reach a few millimeters, hence the name mmWave.
Currently, telecom companies are going after the mid-band sub-6GHz frequency band as it can reach far and wide and yet offer better speed than 4G. The mmWave frequency band, on the other hand, requires cell towers every few blocks so its deployment is quite limited around the world. Telcos are selectively using the mmWave frequency band in dense areas around urban cities like stadiums, convention centers, attraction points, etc. So that was all about 5G frequency bands, now let’s go ahead and learn how fast 5G is both in theory and in practical usage.
How Fast is 5G?
As I mentioned above, 5G can theoretically deliver download speeds between 10 to 20Gbps. However, it will require the mmWave frequency band and an SA 5G network (more on this below), assuming there are no solid hurdles between your device and the cell tower. If we talk about 5G’s performance on the practical side, in the US, Verizon offered download speeds up to 1.3Gbps on its mmWave network.
However, according to a recent OpenSignal report, Illinois, and New York ranked on top averaging a peak 5G download speed of around 141Mbps. If we talk about 5G development in India, Airtel reached a massive 3Gbps speed in one of the trials whereas Vodafone Idea pegged 5.92Gbps and Jio recently announced that it will be able to deliver 1Gbps download speed indoors over its true SA 5G network. It seems like, practically, 5G speeds will be around 100Mbps and can go up to 1Gbps if you happen to access the mmWave 5G network with not much traffic around.
5G Deployment Modes: SA and NSA in 5G
In 2017, when 3GPP first approved the 5G specifications, it was the NSA standard which stands for Non-standalone 5G. NSA 5G is a deployment mode that telcos can implement to quickly build a 5G network. In this mode, you can utilize the existing 4G-LTE core (also known as the EPC) over 5G frequency bands to offer 5G services to compatible 5G devices. In the NSA mode, you don’t need to upgrade the 4G-LTE core to the 5G core. In essence, it’s not a true 5G network as it’s still relying on legacy network infrastructure.
SA 5G or Standalone 5G is a true end-to-end 5G network where all the components are based on 5G specifications. Starting from core to frequency bands and end devices, all must be based on the latest 5G specs. This kind of network infrastructure coupled with the mmWave frequency band will give you the best 5G experience such as sub-10ms latency, over 1Gbps download speed, and more.
To make the transition to 5G quick, companies are currently using the NSA mode with the existing 4G core. However, telcos have affirmed that in a few years, all network gears will move to 5G giving an unparalleled performance. Some telecom operators are also virtualizing the 4G core via software to get 5G benefits which is known as vEPC. To learn more about SA, NSA, and vEPC in 5G, move to our detailed explainer.
5G vs 4G: Benefits of 5G Over 4G
There are many benefits of 5G over 4G such as gigabit download speed, close to zero latency, power efficiency, and more. Go through the below points to understand the difference between 5G and 4G in detail.
- 5G can deliver much faster speeds than 4G. Its operational frequency band is between 600MHz to a massive 52GHz which opens the door for unparalleled performance.
- 5G offers very low latency, generally below 10ms. This means you can do cloud gaming with 5G, interact with users while watching live content, monitor or navigate a self-driving car, and more. In the medical field, it can facilitate remote robotic surgery and doctors can supervise 5G-connected ambulances from far away.
- In comparison to 4G, 5G can scale massively and handle a large swathe of users. It can handle more than 1 million devices in a 1 square kilometer area. Additionally, Massive MIMO and Beamforming improve throughput and efficiency in dense areas.
- According to the Release 15 specifications, 5G is much more power-efficient than 4G. As we grapple with climate change, 5G can help with building a sustainable future.
- 5G also offers voice calls over New Radio (VoNR) which is superior to VoLTE, but the network must be on an end-to-end SA 5G network.
- Just like 4G, 5G supports carrier aggregation which combines multiple frequency bands to create a single data pipeline. Apart from that, there is DSS (Dynamic Spectrum Sharing) support that shares 4G and 5G spectrums to offer a better experience.
- 5G also brings a host of new features like network slicing, real-time analytics, accurate location tracking, and more. Among them, network slicing is an important one. It lets mobile operators create virtual networks from a single physical network. This can be helpful for providing low-latency communication.
Do You Need a New 5G SIM Card?
Generally, you don’t need a new 5G SIM card. Your existing 4G or 3G SIM should work fine with 5G networks as the 5G standard is backward-compatible with 4G and 3G SIM cards. Having said that, some carriers in the US and UK have asked users to get a new 5G-compatible SIM card for a better experience. In such a case, you should upgrade to a 5G SIM card. You can learn in-depth information about carriers region-wise from our article on whether you need a new 5G SIM card or not.
Learn Everything About 5G in Detail
So that was everything about 5G and how it’s going to change our lives in the future. Apart from speed improvements, I like the fact that 5G is power-efficient and consumes less energy. Not to mention, it can also work with existing network infrastructure which makes for better utilization of old network gears. Anyway, that is all from us. If you want to learn about India’s 5Gi standard, head over to our detailed explainer. And to check 5G bands supported on your phone, click on the linked tutorial. For a list of all 5G bands supported in India, go through our curated article. Finally, if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.