Q. I'm in the market for a new smartphone. Should I be shopping for a 4G or a 5G smartphone?
A. Fifth generation (5G) wireless communication technology beats 4G in at least three key areas--speed, bandwidth, and efficiency. Let's take a brief look at each.
Speed: 5G is much faster than 4G. The table below summarizes the theoretical mobile data speeds since 1991. When reading this analysis, please note that the ultimate speed that 4G and 5G technologies deliver depends upon many factors. For example, while 4G can theoretically provide speeds reaching 15 Mbps to 20 Mbps, many providers throttle the speed back to deliver only 10 Mbps or less. As another example, Verizon says on its website that it will deliver speeds ranging from 300 Mbps to 940 Mbps via its introductory 5G plan.
Because the data table above doesn't properly illustrate the difference in speed, I've plotted the maximum theoretical mobile data speeds since 1991 on the chart at right to illustrate how much faster 5G could be. Notice in the chart that speeds for the older 2G, 3G, and 4G technologies barely show up, while 5G's speed operates at least 66 times faster than 4G and has the potential to operate as much as 667 times faster.
Bandwidth: 5G supports more devices. Reportedly, 5G technology can support up to a million devices per square kilometer, compared to only 100,000 devices per square kilometer for 4G technology. This is especially important as everyday devices such as refrigerators, doorbells, and thermostats go online, because it is calculated that 4G technology is unable to manage the anticipated load from these types of internet-enabled devices. Eventually, 5G is expected to support more advanced applications, such as driverless cars, medical devices, and robots.
Efficiency: 5G is more efficient than 4G. Because 5G utilizes shorter wavelengths in the radio spectrum (more on that in the next paragraph), it can transmit data more efficiently compared to 4G.This is because the shorter 5G wave bands can accommodate about three times more data per channel than 4G can. In addition, 5G reportedly requires less energy than does an equivalent size network based on 4G technology.
How 5G outperforms 4G. 5G differs from 4G in that it utilizes the following shorter millimeter wavelengths (or wave bands) of the electromagnetic radio frequency spectrum: 26 GHz, 28 GHz, 38 GHz, and 60 GHz (4G mainly uses the longer 700 MHz, 850 MHz, 1700 MHz, 1900 MHz, and 2100 MHz wavelengths, as...