5G versus 4G: How speed, latency and application support differ

5G wireless network technology is set to boost the bandwidth, capacity and reliability of cellular broadband. Are you ready to leave your 4G world behind?

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You've probably already heard about 5G, the new cellular technology that's poised to bring massive change to both mobile and fixed wireless data networks. What you may be wondering is how 5G differs from 4G, the current cellular network standard, and what benefits the new technology will bring both enterprises and individual users.

To bring you up to speed on 5G's structure and capabilities, and how it improves on 4G technology, here's a quick update.


What is 5G?

As the latest step forward in cellular network evolution, 5G will see untold thousands of small antennas deployed onto cell towers, utility poles, lampposts, buildings and other public and private structures. The technology, which is designed to supplement rather than replace current 4G networks, promises to accelerate cellular data transfer speeds from 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps and beyond, a massive boost that will make next-generation wireless competitive with even the fastest fiber-optic wired networks.

Overall, 5G should significantly improve the bandwidth, capacity and reliability of cellular broadband far more than previous generational shifts. Major carriers are already formulating their 5G strategies. In the US, the top four carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—will begin rolling out 5G networks in 2019 and 2020.

On the mobile phone front, Verizon and Samsung have partnered to make a 5G smartphone they plan to begin marketing in the first half of 2019. Apple, however, won't roll out its 5G phone until 2020. Inside homes and offices, 5G technology is expected to provide serious competition to cable- and telephone-based Internet service providers (ISP).

4G versus 5G performance

5G uses new and so far rarely used radio millimeter bands in the 30 GHz to 300 GHz range. Current 4G networks operate on frequencies below 6GHz.

Low latency is one of 5G's most important attributes, making the technology highly suitable for critical applications that require rapid responsiveness, such as remote vehicle control. 5G networks are capable of latency rates of under a millisecond in ideal conditions. 4G latency varies from carrier to carrier and cell to cell. Still, on the whole, 5G is estimated to be 60 to 120 times faster than average 4G latencies.

Over time, 5G is expected to advance wireless networking by bringing fiber-like speeds and extremely low latency capabilities to almost any location. In terms of peak speed, 5G is approximately 20 times faster than 4G. The new technology also offers a minimum peak download speed of 20 Gb/s (while 4G pokes along at only 1 Gb/s). Generally speaking, fixed site users, such as offices and homes, will experience somewhat higher speeds than mobile users.

5G enterprise impact

Although 4G lacks the speed, capacity and flexibility necessary to fully support a rapidly expanding array of innovative mobile and fixed devices, 5G promises to seamlessly work with wireless sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies, smart traffic lights, smart energy grids, mobile wearables, smart home devices and other cutting-edge technologies.

Most observers also expect 5G to help the Internet of Things (IoT) finally live up to its long-promised potential. Since IoT applications typically need to collect massive amounts of data from large numbers of devices and sensors, the technology requires an efficient network for data collection, processing, transmission, control and real-time analytics. 5G's high speed, low cost, ubiquity and flexibility make it a strong choice for IoT networking.

5G also has the potential to make smart cities, another long-anticipated yet largely unfulfilled technology, practical in real world settings. 5G's speed and ultra-low latency will be crucial for supporting smart city applications including public transit scheduling, crime detection and reporting, smart streetlights and sensors that monitor things such as air quality, water use, parking spaces, traffic flow, sewers and trash collection.

Within the enterprise, 5G is expected to lead to the development of a seamless workplace IoT environment capable of supporting real-time

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