What The Tech: Your 5G Questions Answered
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — So 5G is finally here for customers of AT&T and Verizon. You couldn’t have possibly missed all the news stories and the TV commercials by now. Still, with all of the hype and attention of 5G, you may have some questions.
Questions such as “Don’t I already have 5G?” “How much faster is it than 4G LTE?” and “Is it available everywhere?”
Let’s take a look at those and other questions you may have.
5G was introduced a while back by the major carriers. T-Mobile has been offering it for over a year while AT&T and Verizon just this week began rolling out their 5G-C-Band network. Not to get too technical, but the C-Band uses a very low-frequency spectrum previously owned and used by satellite television. Remember those giant satellite dishes? Those operated on the C-Band. Those frequencies enable cellular providers to offer faster internet speeds.
Some put it this way: If the original 3G network was a highway it had 2 lanes. 4G LTE was a 6-lane highway and 5G C-Band has about 12 lanes. That allows more customers to access the fastest internet being delivered from cell towers.
My phone already says I have 5G, so what’s the difference?
New phones such as the iPhone 12 and 13 are capable of using the 5G network. The difference between that 5G network and C-Band 5G is that C-Band 5G is much faster. 5G isn’t much different than the 4G LTE network we’ve been using for the past few years. If you moved from, say an iPhone 11 and the 4G LTE network to an iPhone 12 on 5G, you probably didn’t notice a big difference.
T-Mobile has been offering customers access to its 5G network which has been faster than Verizon and AT&T’s 5G network. With the latter two’s C-Band 5G, speeds will come close to the speeds you’re getting from your home internet provider. Some early studies show that Verizon and AT&T’s C-Band 5G get speeds close to 1GB. That’s as fast as any home internet service right now.
Do I need the new C-Band 5G? Maybe. If you use your cellular service to primarily send emails, browse the web, upload photos to Facebook, or even stream music, the difference in speeds will most likely be small. Say it takes .5 seconds to upload an image to Facebook, doing the same
thing on the C-Band 5G network will be instantaneous.
If you stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Movies, or YouTube through your cellular service you will notice a difference. For one thing, you’ll be able to watch those shows and movies in 4K with no buffering. Video gamers who play online with friends will notice a huge difference too.
Will I get better service? Probably, it depends on where you are. C-Band 5G has more coverage. A network signal coming from a 4G LTE cell tower might have a range of 2-3 miles while the C-Band 5G cell tower can offer high-speed internet in excess of 6 miles (according to some tests).
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have coverage maps on their websites to show where 5G is available. You can also visit www.cellmapper.net to see every cell tower near you and which networks are on them as well as how far the coverage area goes.
Does it cost more? If you don’t have a 5G capable phone you’ll need to buy a new one. If you have an older phone that can’t access a 4G LTE network you’ll have to buy a new phone anyway as those older phones will not have an accessible network signal coming from a tower.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile include 5G coverage in many data packages. You’ll need to check with the provider. The packages with 5G will cost a little more per month depending on how much of that data you use.
The bottom line is, for most people at least, C-Band 5G won’t make a gigantic difference in how you access the internet from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. At least not for right now. It isn’t available everywhere and some towers won’t be equipped to broadcast the network until 2023 or 2024.